“I’m gon’ put some lead in him,” Mr. Williams says. His raucous laugh holds no mirth, but his belly shakes a little beneath his hands. “If I catch ’em in my yard, I’ma beat the piss out of ’em!”
“Mhmm. I ain’t got too good an aim, so I’ma buy me one of them shotguns. And if I see ’em, that’s it!” Mr. Taylor echoes.
My neighbors are predominantly black, late middle aged. This conversation floats around my head at our annual fish fry. All summer, we have endured a rash of broad daylight break-ins in our suburban Atlanta community.
Crime spikes during the summer, when school is out and idle hands find devilment to get into. The thieves ring doorbells to fish for empty homes and break in if no one answers the door. And at any given moment, a young, black male can be seen running from a cul-de-sac, bulging book bag thumping across his back. A neighbor wrapped in a housecoat yells at him angrily to stop. He is never caught.
The men at the fish fry generally agree: If we catch one in the yard, we’re laying hands on him; if we catch one in our home, we’re shooting to kill.
They are that angry, that violated. They are that afraid.
Today, I think about a shotgun’s bullet tearing through the flesh of a teenage boy, ripping muscle from bone and blasting a peephole in the center of him. I am unsettled, regardless of Castle Doctrine.
During his 911 call, George Zimmerman swore, “These assholes they always get away.” He told the dispatcher about the vandalism in the area. When I first heard the transcript, I felt his rage. I thought it was targeted at young black boys. But I also heard this sentiment at the all-black attended fish fry. Riffraff. Punks. No-account bored teenagers. Worthless thieves who always get away and are never found, whose parents fear them and whose teachers fail them by passing them through school.
My community’s resolution to protect life and property (including mine) is justified. The major difference between Zimmerman’s fear and my neighbors’ fear is that Zimmerman allowed his anger about his fear to direct his gun toward a child who was not committing a crime. My neighbors do not accost teens traipsing across lawns as if youth and skin color were indicators of criminality. And they certainly do not stalk sagging jeans and hoodies.
Profiling is a fear-based response to helplessness. When we don’t know who is violating our sense of safety, we cling to archetypes and images that give us some tangible figure at which to direct our anger. It is human. But it is still wrong.
George Zimmerman had every right to feel angry and afraid and frustrated about the crime occurring in his neighborhood.
He did not, however, have a right to kill Trayvon.