I am worried. I am going to Florida next month, just for a couple of days. But I am worried. Here is why.
Last year a young black kid, armed with Skittles, was murdered on a public street. Walking home. He possessed no weapons. Except for Skittles. An older guy, who happened to be white, shot him. Dead. His defense. He (the killer) had questioned the kid’s right to be on the street and followed him. The kid (according to the killer), then challenged him and a fight ensued. He felt his life was in danger. And in Florida that evidently gives you the legal right to kill someone.
Another case. (I think it was Florida). A guy is texting his babysitter in a movie theater. Annoying. But the movie had not yet started. A guy behind him (again, an older white guy) complained. An argument broke out. Popcorn was hurled. The older guy pulled out his gun and killed the texter/pop corn thrower. His defense. He thought his life was in danger.
A third case, going to the jury as I write. A man (an older white guy again) pulls up to a car with its music blaring. He tells the black kids to turn it down.They mouth off to him. He pulls a gun out of the glove compartment. He fires three times into the car. As the car pulls away he fires 7 more times. A kid is dead. The killer’s defense? He thought his life was endangered. He felt he had the right.
Three killings. Three victims armed with Skittles, popcorn and a music cd. All dead. Because an older white guy felt his life was endangered.
I am not black. I am an older white guy. And I fear for my life. Will I be shot by some black kid if I visit Florida? Will he be justified in killing me? My reasoning.
As a young black man I would now suspect every old white guy. Every old white guy MIGHT be carrying a gun and might put my life in danger. As an older white guy I wonder. Do I dare take out my cell phone around a black kid?Will he think it is a gun? Do I smile at the checkout clerk and reach for my wallet ? Will he think I am carrying “heat” and decide his life is in danger? Do I dare play Bob Dylan on my car radio? Will some black kid take that as an indication that I am threatening his life and decide to act first?
Luckily I have taught many teenage black kids in my former life as a social studies teacher. I know that most of them have the common sense and decency not to shoot someone for no reason other than a paranoid fear of the perceived “other”. Still, I wonder if I should go to Florida. I would hate to be killed based on a stereotype. The stereotype of crazy, paranoid old white men.