Except when it’s not.
Roy Middleton wanted a cigarette. So he went out to the car and rummaged around for one. Apparently he looked suspicious, because somebody called the police. And officers shot Middleton in front of his own house. They reported Middleton “lunged” at them. Middleton of course denies this.
But we know the scary black man must have done it. Because he was suspiciously right near his own house. Just like Wayne Burwell, who was pepper-sprayed, beaten and dragged naked out of his own home. He was found suspiciously sitting on the toilet in a comatose state. The police justified his treatment–he was not compliant and did not follow orders.
Heck, you don’t even have to be black to be scary and suspicious. Or sitting on the toilet. You can be asleep and suspicious as well, like two Chinese students who rented a townhome. The students didn’t follow orders either.
Middleton is damn lucky to be alive. His family found 17 shell casings in front of their home. Fortunately for him, the cops were apparently bad shots. They managed to hit him a few times in the legs but their spray of bullets missed his head and torso.
In defense of the shootings: They were threatening. They did not obey orders. They made a move towards what I thought was a weapon. Her grandmother grabbed my gun.
Because you can count on the weight of privilege and institutionalized racism to back you up. Because might is right.
So brown folks aren’t even safe in their own homes. But the law ensures that white folks are. Because a man’s home is his castle and all that. They are even safe from perceived dangers, like scary black and brown people who might be considering an illegal act.
So George Zimmerman can shoot and kill Trayvon Martin and walk. And in Lilburn, GA, 22-year-old Rodrigo Diaz was shot because he accidentally drove to the wrong house. (I haven’t been able to find follow-up on this story yet. Here’s the Gwinnett Court record.) In New Orleans, a homeowner shot a 14-year-old outside his home.
I am reminded of what Jay Smooth wrote in the wake of the Zimmerman trial:
The fundamental danger of an acquittal is not more riots, it is more George ZImmermans.
In the New Orleans case, it was suggested the homeowner might have thought the kid was planning to break into his home. In Roy MIddleton’s case, he was thought to be a car thief. In Trayvon Martin’s case, Zimmerman thought Martin might be planning to burglarize homes. Which is intensely disturbing, because it suggests that deadly force is entirely justified in cases in which somebody believed they might suffer property losses.
And deadly force is justified in cases in which the shooter had reasonable grounds to fear for his or her safety. “Reasonable,” of course, is defined through the lens of privilege. Because “reasonable” to some people means that a black or brown person was seen infringing on their turf. Turf could be near the house or a car. Turf could be a whole neighborhood. Turf could be white womanhood.
Because the weight of privilege and institutional racism will tip the scale of justice.
In 1992, a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student dressed up like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever for Halloween. Like Rodrigo Diaz, he went to the wrong house by accident. The Peairs family had Halloween decorations on their lawn. But when Yoshi Hattori knocked, Bonnie Peairs opened the door, screamed, and slammed the door shut. She then yelled for husband Rodney Peairs to get his gun.
Like Diaz, Hattori’s error meant he would be shot to death.
Rodney Peairs came out of the house and shot the boy on the driveway as Hattori was walking away. Like Zimmerman, he was initially not charged.
His defense team characterized Hattori as “scary” and “menacing.” The jury deliberated less than four hours before acquitting Peairs.
Bonnie Peairs was never able to articulate exactly what had frightened her.
But we are the ones who really should be afraid.