Like you, I was horrified to learn about the
death murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a man who was way over the top in his zeal to be a quasi law enforcement officer, a zeal infused with racist attitudes that led to the death of a young man doing nothing wrong.
I think the law in Florida – and a similar law in Pennsylvania – is a terrible way to protect the community. In my opinion, that law fueled Zimmerman’s decision to pursue Trayvon which mitigates the claim of “self-defense” but it remains to be seen what the justice system will do.
A few months ago, the 17-year-old boy across the street who happens to be African-American was engaging in pranks with some young friends. They rang a neighbor’s doorbell and ran. They did it to us and I went outside to confront them. So did the neighbor. In the midst of a heated discussion with “S’s” grandmother, the neighbor – also African-American – revealed that he has a handgun and might have been tempted to answer the door with the gun to protect his family.
He was actually sharing that in a very calm manner, seemingly to teach S that his actions could have consequences. S’s story is not atypical of young black teens in our community – raised by grandma who is often not home (she works and apparently sits with her other grandchildren), he’s sort of adrift. He’s a nice enough kid who shovels walks for cash, but also tries to pull off some ridiculous scams. A few neighbors take an interest in him, but then he engages in negative behavior – he and his friends sat at the end of the street calling Ledcat and me “dykes” in stage whispers. We laughed and went on our way.
But he also has done some somewhat numskull stunts, like trying to set our fence on fire. Ledcat swiftly dealt with that, but he didn’t seem to care or register that our fence is connected to four properties with a senior citizen and young children whose lives would be at risk. I suspect grandma whipped him, but her not being around is the larger issue. We watch somewhat sadly as he meanders through his senior year in high school and simply wonder. I’ve called our local street outreach team to talk with him about his choice of associates, but I have no idea what happened.
My point is that he does some immature stuff and its likely he’ll do it again. We don’t have a gun, but our neighbor does and under the law – he could answer the door with it pointed at the head of S. I simply don’t answer the door. Is S a threat to this man’s family? Well, how can I answer that? I’m not sure what’s going on with him, but I also know he hangs with some ne’redowells so I can seem him being persuaded into doing something stupid. I really can. I don’t think that justifies him being shot.
I wonder why our neighbor said that in response to a simple prank? Was he speaking mano-el-mano to S? Was he issuing a threat I didn’t pick up? Is he involved in something he wants to protect? Our block is pretty crime free, especially since the drug dealers down the street both landed in prison and their mother moved away.
I don’t often base my responses to S on the fact that he is a black youth, but I am conscious of it and I worry for him because I see the paths other kids in our neighborhood take. I also worry when he’s sitting on his grandma’s steps wearing a hoodie and waiting to be let into the house (no clue why he doesn’t have a key.) And I wonder if I could be more involved. But the folks at the street outreach team told me not to invite him into our home because of his associates. They know better than I do. So I go out and talk with him and let him use my cell phone to call grandma. But I worry the police will harass him simply for being there. So I watch, ready to intervene. But I can’t watch all of the time and neither can I convince his grandma its an issue.
I wasn’t pleased that S and his buddies used slurs to mock us, but it was an isolated incident. I truly think boredom and lack of opportunity drive his decision-making. But I can also see that other women might take his comments more seriously – would they be justified in answering the door with a gun when he shows up with a shovel?
The implications for these laws are frightening. IMHO, the answer is no. Don’t answer the door. Look out the window. Call the police. If you are uncomfortable, those are reasonable responses. But the idea that our neighbor would pull a gun on someone he actually knows is a little troubling.
Saturday evening, NBC nightly news did some interviews in Trayvon’s hometown. It was sad until they interviewed a woman who appeared to be at an outdoor produce market. She shook her head and made some comments about the whole community being perceived as racist. Then she said it:
“I feel bad for the family, but enough is enough,” she said with regard to the protests. She was fed up with being portrayed as a racist.
It had been 34 days since Trayvon was murdered. How could enough of anything be enough? Grief? Anger? Sadness? Frustration with the legal system? With media coverage? Would she have said the same about the families in the wake of 9/11? Or the public response to the trial of Casey Anthony?
No, she would not. Trayvon was as innocent as Caylee Anthony and the victims of 9/11. He wasn’t doing anything illegal. He posed no threat to Zimmerman. He was walking while being black. That’s his crime and its a crime the echoes around the nation. The heartlessness of saying “enough is enough” in terms of public outrage is stunning, but not surprising. It’s what many people think. They search for reasons to portray a 17 year old as a threat. Possession of a marijuana baggie does not make someone a threat, especially when that was a separate incident. Facebook photos that mimic the immature antics of millions of boys around the country do not make someone a threat.
I’m waiting for NBC to post the clip so I can make sure I caught her quote accurately, but Ledcat and I both saw it.
The lesbian perspective? Well, it’s not the same to be guilty of being lesbian in public, but it isn’t easy. Gay bashing is often treated with similar disregard until public pressure and white privilege kick in to place. Bashing of transpersons of color are often completely overlooked.
It is time that the justice system took all crimes – no matter the victim – more seriously. It is time that we all did. Women don’t deserve to be assaulted because they wear certain clothing. Black young men don’t deserve to be detained and arrested because they are black. Gay men aren’t asking a beating because they threaten someone’s masculinity by simply being gay.
Its time that the whole community started to listen of the voices who endure these experiences and search for solutions, instead of crouching in a defensive posture of denial of our privilege. I know that the problem is the way racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that we remain blind to it, sometimes because we fear losing what we’ve gained?
It’s never enough when parents lose a child. How dare we suggest that there’s a time limit on grief? I get that the woman in Florida might be frustrated, but that pales in comparison and if she’s clueless enough to make such callous remarks on national television, my empathy for any discomfort she experiences evaporates. Deal with it, lady.
So these are some meandering thoughts. I’m going to donate to the effort to change the law in Pennsylvania. I’m going to rethink the way I engage S and continue to push for someone to respond. I’m going to continue the intense discussions Ledcat and I have had about the impact racism has had on our lives. I’m not sure where this will lead, but I do know that enough is not enough.