Tale of Two Shootings
About a month ago two tragedies occurred in a single Florida town on the same night. The two incidents may have seemed unrelated and very different in detail from one another but were actually closely connected.
The first one involves a young child, pictured above. He was visiting his dad in another town for a few days in a neighborhood he wasn’t familiar with. One night he decided to take a walk through the neighborhood to get some Skittles and an iced tea at the store down the street. On his way home, a white resident who ran the local neighborhood watch, took notice of him walking. The child was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, which, likely in combination with the fact that he was a young black male, caused this man to profile him as a potential problem for the gated community.
Paranoid about crime in his neighborhood, he called the police, like he had done many times before (often over very minor incidents). When the dispatchers told him to leave the kid alone, he ignored them and kept his pursuit. The child noticed him and becoming scared of the stranger, ran off. In his frustration at losing sight of the child, the man showed the prejudice in his heart by uttering racial epithets under his breath, overheard later on the 911 tapes.
Shortly after, and it is not clear exactly how, these two crossed paths again. At this point, the man initiated a physical altercation with the boy and then, despite his superior size, resorted to shooting this child in cold blood. The young boy was found dead when the police arrived. He was unarmed and had only a bag of Skittles.
Despite this, the local police let the man walk free after listening to his self-defense argument. Protests sprung up around the country demanding justice be done. Old racial wounds were opened again, bringing back memories of times when whites could commit violent crimes against blacks and not be held accountable. Many were forced to confront the fact that these times likely never left us.
What many did not talk about however, was another shooting in the same town on the same night. In this death, another young black male was killed by an older shooter. The 17 year old victim was a 6’2” high school football player who was in town visiting his dad. A few days earlier, the teen’s school had suspended him for graffiti and after finding marijuana paraphernalia in his bag, along with women’s jewelry and a flathead screwdriver they suspected were evidence of burglary.
One night, this troubled youth, pictured above, decided to walk around his dad’s neighborhood. A neighborhood watch captain, who was worried about a rash of recent break-ins and had never seen this large teen before, saw him and became suspicious of him. He thought his behavior seemed unusual, especially since he claimed that the teen was walking very slowly in the rain and looking closely at houses.
Is it possible this suspicion was based in prejudice? Yes, but those who know this 28 year-old man of mixed white and Hispanic background, say he hasn’t shown signs of racism before. He has very close family and friends of various ethnicities, including many African-Americans.
Is it also possible that a teen who had just been suspended for possessing what his school considered evidence of burglary (women’s jewelry and a screwdriver), was walking slowly and looking at houses with bad intent? Also yes, but we’ll never know.
Regardless, the watch captain decided to contact the police and let them deal with it. He followed the young man through the neighborhood while talking to the dispatcher. They said a unit was on the way and he didn’t need to continue following. It is unclear if he immediately stopped following or if he turned around because the boy had run away, but he soon headed back towards his vehicle to wait for the police.
As the man reached his vehicle, he claims the teen, who had circled around from behind a building, approached him aggressively asking, “You have a problem?” When he answered in the negative, the teen said, “You do now!” and attacked him.
The initial punch was hard enough to knock him down. The 28 year old was half-a-foot shorter at 5’9″ and somewhat overweight, so he was easily overpowered by the blows. Neighbors who witnessed the attack say they saw the teen on top viciously beating the man while he screamed, “Help! Help!” over and over from the bottom. They also saw the teen smashing his head repeatedly into the concrete and pummeling him. Later, the police report confirmed that the man was bleeding from his nose and from gashes on the back of his head. His family claims his nose was broken. During the fray, the neighborhood watch captain’s concealed-carry pistol became exposed and he claims the teen reached for it.
Fearing for his life, the man, pictured below, says he thought to himself that one of them was going to die that night, and realized he had to act quickly to save his own life. He managed to secure the gun and fire it at the teen during their struggle. When the police arrived, the teen was dead and the man weeping. His friends say he didn’t stop crying for days after taking the young man’s life, but felt he had been left with no other choice. Police, after questioning him and the neighbors who witnessed the incident, believe that the man acted in self-defense and at the moment do not plan to press charges.
The details of this case were much less black and white than the first, both in the racial makeup of those involved (since both parties were actually from ethnic minorities), and in their guilt or innocence (since the victim may have had a large hand in making this a deadly incident). This case instead reflected so much in life, in that it was a blurred, morally-ambiguous event. Conclusions were hard to draw and fingers of blame hard to point.
Two different shootings; one night. It seems the first one is getting all the attention, and it’s easy to see why. Battles involving a clear right and wrong are much easier to wage. In the second shooting, right now we have the shooter’s version of events, and those of some eyewitnesses whose statements mostly back up his story. We also have 911 tapes that have been interpreted various ways. It is not as clear as in the first case, where an obviously racist man killed a completely innocent young boy for absolutely no reason.
It would be irresponsible to pit different populations against each other by jumping to conclusions in the more complicated story though. The old tensions are still under the surface and dredging them up for something this uncertain could be tragic. Allowing political forces to use this as a sledgehammer to bludgeon their opponents with, or as evidence of a lack of racial progress would be inexcusable at this point.
We saw this in the cases of Tawana Brawley, OJ Simpson, the Duke Lacrosse team, Michael Jackson, and in many other instances, where conclusions of racial bias were prematurely drawn, perpetuating the belief that our society has not moved past 1965. We should be happy that these early presumptions proved to be false, as seems to be happening in the case of Trayvon Martin. America has improved drastically since the 60’s. It would be a tragedy if civil rights leaders, with all they accomplished a generation ago, ended their careers by repeatedly crying wolf about racism at a much improved America.