Shoot First – Ask Questions Later

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.


  • Lozza

    Squares are John….Sticks are Bonnie

    It amazes me how they can introduce such a law and be sure that it will not be abused. That is a law you would see in an old B grade western movie set in the wild frontier not a so called sophisticated society such as the US.

    • Bonnie Johnson

      Nope, I’m the squares and John is the “log” shaped sticks. Ha ha! But what does it mean about us do you think?…maybe best not to know. 🙂

      I agree that the law is archaic. Not stepping a foot on anyone’s property without a written invitation first while we are here in Florida.

  • Tracy Westerholm

    Okay first I guess John is the long rolled up wrapper symbolic of logs! You are the squares…draw whatever conclusion to that you like! (Bahahaha) You’re not square but you’re not straight either so? Process of elimination here.

    As for the Shoot first…
    I laughed when you said you ride your bikes on their home ‘turf’…all I could visualize is John dressed up in that picture you sent me with his pants really low but I added my own stuff to it…bandana tied with the knott on his forehead on a lowrider peddle bike, crusin slowly through their ‘turf’ !

    I triple dog dare you both to dress up like gang members same colour bandana’s big boom box in your basket on front of your bike! I think probably now you’d get a really good deal on a cut’n colour…something to think about?

    I am the Block Watch Captain (Captain Careful) in my hood here and I have to tell ya I have a very large pellet gun hidden somewhere in my house…just in case! I also have a dog, alarm system, live across the street from a Cop and Firemen…FiremEn being plural! 🙂

    I think we all profile people at times in our lives, depending on the area we are in or situation, I think it’s normal.

    I don’t mean to make this story humorous because someone lost their life because of another human being feeling insecure. I have mixed feeling about it being legal to pack a gun and being able to shoot first and ask questions later. We and I mean ‘civilians’ are not trained to make those split second decisions. Police Officers sometimes have a hard time with doing so and they have training and trust their instincts working around and profiling people in their job on a daily basis.

    Having said that if I knew all my neighbours were packin…I’d probably feel a bit safer if I also had one, locked up in a safe place! or…I’d date a cop who had a big gun! 🙂

    Until you walk in the shoes of others we can’t judge how they will react to any situation that is put upon them. Sad and tragic that anyone has to lose a life over something like this.

    My neighbours Mom was held up by a gun and every time the kid next door shot his pellet gun in his back yard she would relive her traumatic experience…

    Thought provoking post Bon!

    • Bonnie Johnson

      You guessed right Trace! We are pathetic aren’t we…

      I don’t think you would do well down here, and I really wouldn’t want you to pack a gun either. Between your suspicious nature and quick reflexes – yikes! 🙂

      • Tracy Westerholm

        “is the safety on…or off? Is the door locked? did you hear that noise?” ….that was the O-L-D me silly! Now I am just afraid of getting in an accident and not having shaved legs! They do cut your pants off ya know! “Yeti found in the burbs…picture front page of the Times!

        I’d be high fivin all the dudes saying “whatchu takin bout?” “Ohhhhh noooo youuuuu di-int”

        I’d blend so well! 😉 😉 😉

  • Jane

    Very good post Bonnie, but I wouldn’t stop for that haircut to be on the safe side. Don’t think John would look good with a design on his head. Have to go with Tracy on the candy

  • Kevin

    Gun laws are tricky business. There is no perfect policy solution. Law abiding citizens and criminals can obtain guns in Canada but maybe by nature, we’re different that our frontier thinking neigbours to the south. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to set up a police state, or initiate Marshall Law, the RCMP would likely get full co-operation from the provincial and municipal police forces across Canada. Tracy’s pellet gun and my sling shot, wouldn’t provide much resistance.

    On the other hand if Barack Obama choose the same course, he’d have citizen militias to face down across the country. The ability to invoke a people’s revolution if required, is the reason why ‘the right to bare arms’ will likely remain entrenched within the U.S. Constitution. Ironically, when castle doctrine laws and concealed weapon permission is granted, crime rates go down, but everybody seems to have a nervous twitch. Yup, I think we just got lucky in Canada.

    • Tracy Westerholm

      Great points Kevin.

      This is a tough debate isn’t it. We carry guns and we face what has happened in this story, a civilian shooting first and asking questions after which results in a human life being lost. Is a human life ever worth losing? How exactly do we prevent it from happening again?

      If you weigh the percentage of human lives lost with the percentage of the crime rate going down, is it worth it then? Ask the Mother or Father or Sister or anyone who knew the victim if they thought it was worth losing the one they loved? My guess is no.

      Having the right to carry a guns probably does put the thought into a criminals mind that it is possible that they could be shot, but the mind set of criminals is so far off the mind set of a law abiding citizen that I don’t think we have a hope in hell when it really comes down to who will draw first. We the law abiding ones don’t want to shoot anyone but criminals don’t value life as we do. The odds are always going to be against us.

      I think the best way to deal with all crime is giving the Police more support and having tougher penalties in the courts. Unfortunately the Police know that most of the non-law abiding citizens they arrest are going to be out the next day or soon after and a slap on the wrist doesn’t deter a single one of them. Kids who walk on the wrong side of the law know too well what they can or can not get away with.

      I could go on and on about this…does it start in the home? Do kids have ANY supervision anymore? Do we care more for materialistic possessions than we do for our offspring. It seems more and more parents are leaving kids unattended so they can work more to get that 64 inch flat screen TV? Kids need guidance not stuff!

      I don’t think a gun is necessary in a home, alarms, dogs, being vigilant about checking doors and windows, participating in Block Watch, knowing who your neighbours are, supporting one another and being aware is important to being safe in your castle.

      Now I will go and look out my Castle window and let my hair down…;)


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