Florida is a nightmare from which America cannot seem to awake. It bakes with neuroses.
The state has the uncanny ability to magnify and distort cultural and political anxiety, to live with a welter of deeply inbred social conflicts that regularly erupt with a ferocity that is almost surreal.
It is as if the Sunshine State is surrounded by fun-house mirrors, the sole purpose of which are to make the application of common sense to public events impossible.
Consider the tabloid furor over whether the husband of a brain-dead woman could allow his wife to die in the Terri Schiavo case.
Remember the trivialization of foreign policy disguised as a custody struggle over six-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez.
Recall the historic bad joke known as the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which — in essence — came down to not who got the most votes, but how those votes were counted.
Now comes the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was gunned down while visiting his father's fiancée in a gated residential community in Sanford, Florida, more than a month ago.
Martin, who was unarmed, was killed while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a container of ice tea and a bag of Skittles, both of which he had bought at a local convenience store.
Martin was black. His admitted killer, George Zimmerman, has Anglo and Latino parents.
Zimmerman, a member of the self- appointed community watch, suspected that Martin was up to no good — although there is no evidence that Martin had broken any laws or was even acting suspiciously.
But then again, Martin was an African-American youth.
And that evidently was enough for Zimmerman to ignore police instructions to leave Martin alone.
What happened next is in dispute.
A confrontation ensued. Zimmerman says that he was assaulted and feared for his life, so he shot Martin, and Martin died.
The local police investigator on the scene wanted to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter.
The local prosecutor, who has since been replaced on this case, took a pass.
Little evidence was collected. For example, Zimmerman did not have to surrender his clothes so that his apparel could be checked for grass stains or other signs of a scuffle.
Zimmerman's lawyer says that his client suffered a broken nose and lacerations to the back of his head, as well as cuts and bruises. And the police report appears to bear this out. However, no medical records have been produced to corroborate Zimmerman's side of the story.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law, a brainchild of the National Rifle Association, was apparently on the minds of local authorities when they sought to sweep Martin's death under the proverbial rug.
Simply put, "stand your ground" laws allow people to shoot others who they think threaten them with serious harm — as a first recourse, not the last.
It is a very Republican idea, essentially market-based."Stand your ground" efficiently transforms a citizen into a one-person judge, jury, and executioner. It cuts out the middlemen — the cops and prosecutors.
Since Florida adopted its law in 2005, justifiable homicides there have tripled.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to police that Martin might have been threatened by Zimmerman. Although, since Martin is dead, that is moot.