3/31/12, No. 29
There it is on the map: our state out there, dangling down, on its own, a world unto itself, flaccid. What erects it from its usual low profile? These nine stories do: Elián González, Bush v Gore, Brenton Butler, Terri Schiavo, Casey Anthony, Gov. Rick Scott, George Zimmerman, Cristian Fernandez, and now Michael Dunn. (Pssst! news director . . . should I mention Marissa Alexander?) Since 2000, the state has engaged in histrionics superior to those of any adolescent.
2000 — Elián González: Elián González and his mother left Cuba in a boat for Florida, but the mother died making the trip. Once the boy had set foot on U.S. soil, the Immigration and Naturalization Service released him to his paternal great-uncle, Lázaro, in Miami. However, his father in Cuba, Juan Miguel, a waiter at an Italian restaurant, unreasonably wanted him back. Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, ordered the boy to be returned to this father. Miami’s Cuban community went berserk. They organized and swarmed in the hundreds, surrounding the house where Elián was staying. Why? States rights! But early in the morning of April 22, the feds went in and took him away and returned him to his father in Cuba.
2000 — Bush versus Gore: Back when reporter Juan Williams worked for NPR, he reported that the 2000 presidential election was actually decided right here in Jacksonville (Morning Edition, April 19, 2002–link below). According to him, by order of John Stafford, Duval County Supervisor of Elections, 27,000 votes from the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville—an area primarily in the grip of the Party on the Ropes—were tossed out on account of hanging chads. This was the highest rate of discards by far in Florida, well beyond Miami-Dade and Broward. What Chicago was to the 1960 election, Duval was to the 2000.
2001 — Brenton Butler: A French filmmaker named Jean-Xavier de Lestrade chronicled this case of a Jacksonville fifteen-year-old, Brenton Butler, wrongfully accused of murder. The city of Jacksonville and the state became infamous. Lestrade won an Academy Award for his documentary, Murder on A Sunday Morning:
2005 — Terri Schiavo: It was the plot of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre all over again, complete with a Bertha Mason Rochester—the madwoman in the attic. If you recall that story, Rochester wanted to marry his governess, Jane, but there was just one little problem—his wife was still alive. The state has a funny law that says, if there is no advance directive, and wife (Terri) is non-communicative, and husband (Michael) wants to marry a new girlfriend, who is Roman Catholic and so cannot marry a divorced man, then husband can remove feeding tube. After wife “passes away,” newly widowed man and girlfriend can marry in a Catholic ceremony. However, like Bertha’s brother, Richard, a number of people wanted to butt in and put an end Michael’s wedding plans, including Jessie Jackson and a group calling itself “Disabled Queers in Action.” Below is a link to one of them, some crazy disabled lady named Harriet McBryde Johnson commending Washington for trying to override this wonderful state law that allows a husband to kill his wife and prohibits anyone else from stopping him. Fortunately, with everybody at the time shouting at each other, nobody stopped to listen to her. Like Rochester, Michael got to be with his bride:
To quote Jonathan Swift, that year I saw a woman starved to death, “and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”
2008-2011 — Casey Anthony: Casey’s daughter Caylee was two when she went missing. When various people noticed Caylee had been missing for a while, Casey admitted she had not seen her daughter for several weeks. Then she said her daughter must have been kidnapped. There was something in the news about a trash bag, duct tape, skeletal remains, a stinky car, and a wooded area near the family home. It was all very confusing. What does seem clear is that Casey did some serious partying while the child was gone. The trial lasted six weeks, from May to July, 2011, and the jury found her not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child. The people on the state’s juries are very tolerant. Live and let live. It did convict on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Time Magazine called the case “the social media trial of the century.”
2010-2014 — Governor Rick Scott: Most politicians wait to rob the government until they get into office. This one couldn’t wait: he robbed it before he got there. Gov. Scott held up the federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars when he was the CEO of Columbia / HCA. According to Wikipedia, “On March 19, 1997, investigators from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services served search warrants at Columbia / HCA facilities in El Paso and on dozens of doctors with suspected ties to the company. Following the raids, the Columbia / HCA board of directors forced Scott to resign as Chairman and CEO.” The company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million. At the time, this was the biggest case of Medicare fraud ever.
His supporters point out that Scott now is the people’s criminal, robbing on behalf of the people, or at least on behalf of a few of the people, of Florida.
2011 — Cristian Fernandez: State Attorney Angela Corey charged 12-year-old Cristian Fernández for the killing his two-year-old brother. After she decided to try him as an adult, the boy was locked up for months under 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, pending his trial. By reelecting Corey, the people of Jacksonville voted in favor of this treatment.
Cristian became the youngest person in Jacksonville history to be charged for murder as an adult. The question then became one of whether it would be possible for her to charge a fetus with murder if it brought about the death of its twin while still in utero: Fetus faces death
2012 — George Zimmerman: In 2005, former Governor Jeb Bush signed a law that is so clever it allows you to kill someone you don’t like, anytime, anywhere, and get away with it. Now one doesn’t have to go through the inconvenience of being arrested and fingerprinted and having to post bail, much less stand trial. All one has has to do when the police come is claim one felt threatened. To feel better, one had to shoot.
Florida is leading the way for the other forty-nine states into the twenty-first century.
2014 — Michael Dunn: Two whites on a Jacksonville jury thwarted it from reaching a verdict to convict a South Florida man, Michael Dunn, of murder after he fired ten shots into a vehicle full of teenagers. These two must have assumed that “if this white man thought he saw the black boy with a gun, then he must’ve really thought he’d seen what he thought he had seen. Thinking you’ve seen something and just imagining you’ve seen something are entirely different.” This argument was so persuasive they got a third juror to go along.
The victim, seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis, was a reasonably good student with no criminal record, and at the autopsy no drugs or alcohol were found in his system. Despite this evidence, the holdouts on the jury still felt certain Davis must have been a some kind of gangster.
Dunn sort of invoked “Stand Your Ground,” claiming one of the teens brandished a shot gun and that this gave him the right to shoot into the vehicle. Somehow though the teens forgot to use it to shoot back after Dunn began firing bullets into the vehicle. The three surviving teens have pledged to better live up to white people’s stereotypes. After all, real gangsters return fire, and the four didn’t fire a shot.
These nine dramatic stories have done much to raise the profile of the dangling appendage. So, welcome to the (thunderous drum roll)
. . . drama queen state!
Eat our dust, Delaware!