Before I begin my post on a very heavy subject, I thought I’d sneak in a little fun. I’ve included a picture which illustrates the difference between John and me. This is an add-on to the post I did recently about our addiction to Dove chocolates. Can you guess which wrapper pile belongs to who? Leave your guess in the comments. I have to say that every time we eat Dove chocolates, the wrappers are left on the table in the exact same configuration. Every. Time. What does it all say about us?
Now to the somber stuff.
If you follow any of the US news programs you will have heard about Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old Florida high school student who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain. Trayvon had just bought an ice tea and some skittles. He was unarmed but looked suspicious to Zimmerman because he was a black teenager wearing a hoody. I’m only a couple of hours away from where this happened so it hit our local news right away. It disturbed me the moment I heard about it and it continues to upset me.
The story has put the spot light back on race issues here in the US, where there is obviously still a problem. It’s 2012 people! So why is race profiling still happening? After some self reflection I was horrified to realize that I may be guilty of it myself to a degree.
I thought back to John and I riding our bikes through a low income (read: mostly black) neighbourhood on our way to the gym last year. We rode the same route at least 3 times a week. There was one house that always had a bunch of people on the front porch and often one guy was giving someone a hair cut. They would wave at us as we past and call out a hello, or a how you doin’. We always waved back, smiled and said hello. One day John suggested we stop and ask the guy if he would cut his hair. I gasped and said nooo way. My feeling was that we did not belong there and that they would be uncomfortable with us coming into their space too. We are so different. Plus – cutting African American thick curly hair and cutting some Canadian guys downy fine hair is not at all the same. It’s one thing to wave hello but to stop and impose ourselves on their home turf just felt wrong to me. I’m pretty sure I would have reacted the same way if it was a dilapidated trailer park in any province back in Canada and they were all white with missing teeth. (Now I probably sound like a racist and a snob – but I’m not – really I’m not!)
Where do these assumptions come from I wondered? My son has lived in various neighbourhoods in downtown Tampa and he has told me that you simply do not walk through the low income black neighbourhoods at night alone. Ever. I wish he hadn’t gone on to tell me about the university kid who was shot in the back just blocks away from campus doing just that.
Around the time I read about Trayvon’s murder (yes, I call it murder) I also read a story about a woman who was working alone in her store here in Florida. A 17 year old black kid came in and attempted to rob her. She pulled out a gun and shot him dead and then ran out of her store and flagged a police car down, “I just shot someone…I think he was going to rob me.” You think? You mean you didn’t know for sure? He very well may have been about to rob her, but I still don’t think that is cause to kill someone.
I believe the issue here, apart from the race issue – which sadly still needs to be worked on, is that everyone in this state is allowed to carry a gun as long as they register it. And what’s worse is that the “stand your ground” bill that republican governor Jeb Bush signed into law on April 26, 2005, allows a shoot first, ask questions later mentality. Ripe ground for vigilantes.
Florida became the first state to expand an ancient rule of law called the castle doctrine. That doctrine says that if strangers enter your house without permission, you can kill them with impunity. The Florida legislature decided that the old common law should extend not only to the sidewalk outside your house, but to “any other place where he or she has a right to be”—any street, any park, any store: anywhere. Stand your ground.
All I know for sure is, despite whatever happened between them that night, if George Zimmerman did not have a gun with him, Trayvon Martin would be alive today. And that now is probably not the best time to ask for that hair cut.