Jesse Jackson inspired generations with his mantra: “I am somebody.”
But these days, as he spouts misleading statistics and over-the-top rhetoric about Florida and gun violence, three alternatives to his famous slogan come to mind:
I am misleading.
I am inflammatory.
I am counterproductive.
While his call to fight racial injustice is righteous, Jackson’s tactics haven’t done much to help the Dream Defenders protestors, who have occupied a part of the Florida Capitol outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office in opposition to Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
The Dream Defenders have been smart, sharp and effective, blending the nonviolence of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi with social media and our modern-day celebrity culture.
Jackson, one of those celebrities, dropped by Tuesday in Tallahassee and referred to the protests and Florida as “the Selma of our time.”
Huh? Let’s review and compare:
On March 7, 1965, more than 500 peaceful demonstrators were savagely beaten by law enforcement as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., during a march to Montgomery.
As of Aug. 5, 2013, the Dream Defenders entered their 20th day of peacefully occupying the Capitol, an occupation that began three days after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Miami Gardens. None has been billy-clubbed, tear-gassed or manhandled.
Two days after the July 16 occupation began, Jackson appeared on CNN and talked about an economic boycott of the state to “isolate Florida as a kind of apartheid state given . . . Stand Your Ground laws.”
Scott and Republicans, who control the Florida Legislature, proactively demanded an apology from Jackson. He refused.
Now, Florida political leaders have something to talk about other than the substance of the Dream Defenders’ demands. And Jackson stays on TV and in the newspapers. This is mutually assured dysfunction.
And Jackson’s stats are off. But that’s nothing new.
In April 2012, Jackson said Florida “homicides have increased threefold” under Stand Your Ground. They haven’t. They’ve ticked up by more than 10 percent (not 300 percent), though the homicide rate has dropped about 1 percentage point since the first full year of Stand Your Ground’s implementation, in 2006 (it became law in July 2005, during a hurricane year when crime was at an all-time low).
This year, Jackson went a step further and explicitly injected race into the debate by saying “homicides against blacks have tripled” since Stand Your Ground was enacted. False. Again. They rose 1.5 percent to a total of 532 over six years.
And Jackson’s general claims about clear racial inequities in Stand Your Ground aren’t so clear, either, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of more than 200 cases last year. The paper, a partner of the Miami Herald, could find no clear racial bias in the self-defense law, which allows defendants to use lethal force more easily in some confrontations.
Those who plead Stand Your Ground in fatal cases involving a dead black person are more likely, by 22 percentage points, to “walk free” when compared to those who kill a white person, The Times’ data show.