I know you all know the story by now, but I feel compelled repeat it. It’s a story that needs to be told and told and told again or it will disappear from the news, pushed aside by the GOP primaries and new incidents of celebrity misbehavior and March Madness and even some actual news.
Last month, in Sanford, Florida, a grown man chased and confronted a seventeen year old boy and shot the kid dead. The man was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The kid was armed with a box of candy. The man was playing at being a cop. The kid was on his way home from buying a snack at the store. The man thought the kid was “suspicious.” The kid thought….well, we don’t know what he thought because he’s not around to tell us, but the man wasn’t wearing a uniform, he didn’t carry a badge, the car he was driving had no markings---because he wasn’t a cop! He was an idiot pretending to himself he was a cop!---so what the kid probably thought was that some idiot who had no business chasing him was chasing him and he was under no obligation to listen to, let alone obey the idiot. The idiot was in fact an idiot and he had been told by the police, when he’d called 9-1-1 to report his suspicions, that he really didn’t have any business chasing the kid and he should leave him alone until the real police showed up. The idiot, being an idiot, didn’t listen.
It turns out that under Florida law, any frightened idiot with delusions of grandeur who thinks for whatever reason you might try to hurt him or rob him can shoot you dead as long as he can convince the cops---or a jury---he “reasonably” thought you were a threat to life, limb, or property.
When the real cops arrived, they decided on the spot that the idiot had “reasonably” felt threatened to the point where pointing his gun and pulling the trigger was the reasonable thing to do.
It seems incredible that police officers would have accepted an idiot pretend cop’s word that a man with a gun felt he was in danger from a kid with a box of Skittles. But they were likely helped along by the fact that when they arrived the idiot was bleeding and had apparently been on the ground, knocked down or pulled down in a scuffle with the kid.
Based upon the way their chief has talked about what happened since, though, it seems that what really convinced them was that the idiot was white and the kid was black.
Now, it’s “reasonable” to suppose that something like this happened, that the kid, thinking the idiot had no business chasing him and, I’m guessing but it’s a good bet, grabbing him to “detain” him, hauled off and clocked the idiot one good and proper. In addition to the candy, the kid was also armed with some iced tea. I don’t know if it was in a can or a bottle. Either one, you get hit in the face with it, it’s going to hurt. The idiot, going down, might have “reasonably” thought the kid wasn’t going to leave it at that and managed to get off a lucky shot.
Of course, what he also might “reasonably” have thought, if he hadn’t been an idiot, was, “I’ve got no badge, no uniform, no real authority, and no real business chasing him, he doesn’t know me from Adam, and I’ve got a gun. The kid might have thought I was trying to rob him. No wonder he hit me. Maybe I need to do a better job of explaining. Or maybe I should just wait for the real cops to arrive.”
Let’s not think about what might have happened if the real cops had showed up to find a black kid standing over a prostrate and bleeding white guy right now, but it’s hard to imagine they’d have accepted the kid’s story that he “reasonably” believed the white guy intended to do him bodily harm.
The thing is that although the cops who were first to arrive might not have known the whole story at the moment, it couldn’t have been too long before they heard it all, and that story is this:
“I was out pretending to be a real cop, a way I like to spend my Sunday evenings, when I saw a black kid in what I think of as a white neighborhood, which can only mean one thing, so I called it in, as if I was real cop. But the 9-1-1 dispatcher reminded me I’m not a real cop and told me to leave it for the real cops to handle. But I’m too big an idiot. I decided to chase the kid. When I caught up with him, he defied me. Even though I wasn’t wearing a uniform or carrying a badge, I expected him to let me point my gun at him and tell him what to do. Instead he treated me like I was just some idiot threatening him with a gun. I got scared and I got angry---angrier, because I was already angry at him for not respecting my authority which I don’t have, but never mind---so I discharged my weapon. So even though I had no real reason to be suspicious of this kid, and even though I was officially told to stay out of it, and even though I had no business chasing him and no authority to arrest or detain him, and even though he had nothing in his hands but candy and ice tea, I ‘reasonably’ thought I was within my rights to shoot him.”
To which the police should have said and most likely would have said, if the idiot had been black and the kid had been white, or if both had been black, or if both had been white, “Tell it to the judge, moron.”
But that didn’t happen. The cops agreed that the idiot had acted “reasonably” and let him go because we live in a country where a grown man running around playing at being the Blue Knight can harass a seventeen year old kid going about the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid and then shoot him dead because the kid showed in some way that he didn’t like being harassed by a stranger waving a gun at him. This is the law in Florida. It’s the law in 29 states. It’s going to become the law in a bunch more. Any idiot can shoot you if he “reasonably” believes you’re threatening him.
It’s the case that this is more likely to happen to you if you’re a young black man. It’s clear from the police chief’s justifications for letting the idiot go that not only is a young black man a suspicious and threatening character just by being a young black man but that a young black man ought to know that he scares white idiots just by being a young black man and should adjust his behavior accordingly. That means, generally, avoiding contact with white people as much as possible, but specifically when confronted and challenged, cringing and apologizing and doing whatever the white idiot tells him to do or just running away like a thief, as if turning his back on a frightened white idiot waving a gun would have been a “reasonable” course of action.
Basically, what the chief was saying was that Trayvon Martin should have known that he had no right to go out to the store to buy a snack in a neighborhood where frightened white idiots pretending to be cops are wandering around with guns.
So this is the story. We live in a country where any frightened idiot can shoot you dead if you make him nervous.
This is even more the case if you’re a young black man and the frightened idiot is white.
But basically it comes down to this. We live in a country that privileges and protects frightened white idiots with guns.
Update: Up above I wrote that we’ll never know what Trayvon was thinking when the idiot chased him down, but I wasn’t thinking. Trayvon had his cell phone with him. And being a normal seventeen year old kid out on the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid, he was talking on it while he walking. He was talking to his girlfriend and told her what he thought was happening.