I was walking down Powers Avenue Saturday night.
I came across a kid, perhaps 17. He was walking the walk. You know, it says I’m a bad you-know-what, don’t mess with me. He had on one of those oversized white T-shirts that hang halfway down to the ground plus the baggy shorts that seemed six sizes too big.
I think he might have even had a tattoo or two.
I didn’t recognize him as being from the neighborhood.
So I did what any law-abiding citizen concerned about the safety of his neighborhood would do. I said “hi” and smiled as we pulled up even with each other heading in different directions. He returned the greeting with a slight smile as well.
Amazing, it was non-confrontational. No one called 9-1-1. There was no fight. And no one was shot.
Not that it really matters, but did I mention we had different skin tones? I’m sure we had a whole different set of values. I’m willing to bet he was into rap music. And I’m sure he doesn’t listen to Frank Sinatra, Garth Brooks, or the Beach Boys for that matter. He probably wears his belts a lot closer to the ground than I do as well.
I have never been to Florida. I have no desire to go there - even less so after how the state seems to give vigilantes a license to kill.
That might seem a tad harsh but consider just a few things.
Trayvon Martin seemed just like a typical 17-year-old - if there is such a thing. If you check around there are a lot of 17-year-old boys of every color under the rainbow who walk around like they’re down - or whatever the term du jour is. They dress the look which, by the way, can be purchased at any mainstream retailer in the country.
Having said that, there is no indication that Trayvon was doing anything but walking to his father’s girlfriend’s home after buying Skittles at a corner store.
George Zimmerman was roaming the streets of the gated community as an armed Neighborhood Watch member. In video footage, he doesn’t seem to be wearing anything approaching a uniform.
Although we will never probably know, it is doubtful that Zimmerman started their encounter with a “hi” and a smile. Based on his call to 9-1-1 about a suspicious person and the dispatcher telling him not to confront the subject, Zimmerman seemed to be acting in his mind under the color of authority. It’s his neighborhood, he is a self-appointed security force and therefore he has the right to demand to know why someone he doesn’t recognize is walking the streets.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I know more than a few 17-year-old boys who look like they could pound almost anyone but are actually wary of other people including older adults. There are a lot of reasons for that running the gamut from being unsure of yourself to having been victimized in a number of different ways physically.
If a 17-year-old gets tough it could be because he’s trying to posture himself in a bid to ward off trouble. It’s kind of like when one of my Dalmatians came face-to-face with a pit bull that was on the loose when I was walking my dogs on a leash. DeVille - who I’d never seen get angry or even bark aggressively at anyone or another dog - suddenly went berserk to the point the pit bull backed off. Call it self-preservation.
The odds are that is the mode Trayvon went into when he was confronted by an older man he felt was menacing who clearly was not a law enforcement officer.
It is hard to believe that any state encourages armed citizens to roam the streets acting like police. But apparently that is OK under the law in Florida.
Was it an issue of racism or at least racial profiling to justify his actions?
Maybe, maybe not. But it is crystal clear that regardless of the color of either Zimmerman or Trayvon’s skin that there is a solid chance that civil rights were violated.
Police can’t simply stop you for no reason at all and ask what are you doing walking down the sidewalk. And since Zimmerman wasn’t on his property - or anywhere near it - how can he even justify his action in confronting a 17-year-old kid that he believed did not belong in his gated neighborhood?
The facts aren’t all in nor has the justice system completed its due diligence.
It’s obvious that Florida’s laws have allowed some to declare war on the lawful movements of others to the point of confronting them and killing them when things go south.
One has to wonder how things would have been different if Travyon hadn’t been followed as the dispatcher told Zimmerman not to do or if as they approached each other their encounter started with a “hello” and a smile.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.