As a student of politics and an advocate for social change, I try to keep my eyes and ears on news stories and events that affect Austin and other communities of color. 

This week, although not specifically related to Austin, I found three of particular interest: the Senate voting to eliminate the filibuster super-majority requirement for presidential cabinet appointments, Katie Couric’s interview with George Zimmerman’s estranged wife, and the arrest of an African-American mother of four in New Mexico following a routine traffic stop.

On Nov. 21, the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate finally took action to break the filibuster gridlock that has enabled Republicans to block many of President Obama’s cabinet appointments. In spite of three Democrats and 47 Republicans voting against the change, it passed. Now a simple majority, 51 of the 100 senators, is required to get important appointments approved, which will restore the American government to a higher level of functionality.

The filibuster, first used in 1917, is a parliamentary strategy used to shut down debate by requiring 60 votes to pass a measure as opposed to a simple majority. The Republicans have used it to undermine Obama’s effectiveness and limit his legacy.

During the Senate’s history, half of the filibusters have occurred during the Obama administration. Several key appointments to the judicial courts and essential cabinet positions have been blocked by Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who have gone on record saying their only agenda is to derail and invalidate the election of President Obama. 

Shortly after Obama’s first election, McConnell said, “my number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president.” Aided by many consenting Republicans using the filibuster, they have sought to derail the president’s entire second-term agenda as well, including the jobs bill which would put Americans to work rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and the implementation of ObamaCare (The Affordable Care Act). 

Encouraged by the action taken by the Senate, in a brief statement from the White House, Obama said, “Over the past five years we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done.” 

In a second and all-too-familiar story, on Nov. 21, Shellie Zimmerman, wife of George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground law” appeared on NBC’s Katie Couric Show and said in an exclusive interview, “I think [George] unraveled after the trial.”

Shellie spoke of Zimmerman’s history of domestic violence against a former fiancée and against her. She also said she was not at their home the night of Trayvon’s death and that Zimmerman was upset about their ensuing breakup.

“Obviously there was the prior domestic dispute [charge] with his fiancée [in 2005], so he may have had that potential all along. … He never assaulted me before like he did during our domestic dispute,” Shellie said. 

“Going through the past year and a half, I don’t know how that changes a person or [when] a person breaks, but I feel like that happened to him,” she added. “[He was] lying about a bunch of things. It certainly seemed like something snapped in his spirit.”

In response to Couric’s question, “And made him behave like what?” Shellie responded, “Like a monster.”

She also said she now has doubts about Zimmerman’s innocence but that during the trial she was committed to standing by him. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” she told Couric. “I did not let myself have doubts about his innocence.” 

In response to Couric asking what she believed now, Shellie said, “I don’t believe George maliciously went out to murder someone that night. George had such a great heart. We both mentored two African-American children. The majority of his friends are African-American. I just can’t go to a place in my heart where I believe he was a racist.”

The interview continued and Shellie provided information that provides a plausible explanation as to why Zimmerman should have been found guilty of Trayvon Martin’s murder. She also agreed with Couric’s assessment that Zimmerman was a “ticking time bomb.

Another horrifying and all-too-familiar story is the incident that led to the arrest of Oriana Ferrell who, on Oct. 28, was driving in New Mexico with five children between the age of 6 and 18, and was pulled over for doing 71 miles per hour in a 55 mph speed zone. Ferrell was issued a ticket and refused to sign for it.

What ensued amounted to Ferrell breaking several other laws, including refusal to obey a lawful order, resisting arrest and child endangerment. These charges stemmed from Ferrell refusing to get out of the car and driving off from the officers twice.

This incident is horrifying because of the tactics used by the officers. They smashed the van window with a club, pointed guns at the teenage boys, and shot at the van tires as Ferrell drove away. Ultimately, Ferrell was subdued and charged. Her case is still pending.

Ferrell said her actions were the result of her fear for her children and a desire to get them away from what she believed to be a potentially life-threatening situation. 

It is not hard to understand why Ferrell did what she did.