Trayvon Martin RIP

America has a strange relationship with guns.

The “right” to bear arms is something that many regard as a key freedom.

This fact frequently puzzles Europeans, myself included, until I read the “Little House on the Prairie” book series.

To the early settlers of the American west, the Winchester rifle provided food as well as protection from Indian attack and wild animals. Without your gun, you were dead.

And the fact that we are no longer in the 1880s has done little to dim Americans’ ardor for the gun. It’s just part of the national DNA at this point.

There is a very powerful lobby here that resists any attempts to control guns. In fact they aggressively push for laws such as the one in Florida that allows you to shoot someone you ‘think’ might be threatening you.

This legislation led a Floridian being able to shoot a young African-American child dead for no apparent reason other than he felt threatened. And more egregrious than that, it wasn’t automatically a cause for police investigation.

When I first came to this country in the early 90s, i saw first hand that African-Americans were discriminated against. And this was in New York City. I truly appreciated having white skin and speaking English as my first language. I was immediately ahead of the game. I could hail a cab! Anytime, anywhere. Like magic.

African-Americans, like Irish people, have experienced being less-than-human under the law. That is something you don’t forget too quickly as a culture.

They were brought to the Americas as slaves.

And, not many people know this, but the only reason African-Americans were brought over was that the Irish and Scottish slaves that the English originally intended to harvest the sugar cane in the Caribbean, wilted in the heat.

Had we celts fared better in the blazing sun, there might be NO African-Americans at all.

It also doesn’t helped that African-Americans were actively and legally discriminated against after they won their so called “freedom” in 1865.

They were then crowded into urban ghettos and had great difficulty finding work. Purely because of the color of their skin.

So it was hardly surprising then that crime was frequently rampant in the African-American community. Just as it was among Irish immigrants in New York and Boston in the 19th century.

Segregation leads to fear and mistrust. But if the crime statistics “support” these fears and if racism persists, it leads to situations like that befell poor Trayvon Martin. A child gunned down by someone who probably shouldn’t have been in possession of a weapon, much less be in a position of power.

I will now offset all this preaching by telling you a story that happened to me here on the streets of Chicago a couple of weeks ago.

There have been several shootings on the block that houses The Escape Pod offices in the past year. The most recent one was fatal. A security guard at a nearby drugstore was shot dead for no apparent reason a month ago.

These things put you on edge.

Your danger antenna goes up. You get judgmental.

A couple of weeks ago i was walking down the street and I noticed an African American guy come running across the street just behind me.

Nothing strange there.

Then I noticed he was walking right beside me in lockstep. Right next to me. Shoulder to shoulder.

I kept looking straight ahead, walking. I am a pretty fast walker btw.

So now my city wheels are turning.

“Is this guy fucking with me? What’s going on here? Should I confront him?”

My adrenalin is starting to pump.

So I decide to turn to look at him, and with the biggest smile i could muster, confidently said “hey, what’s up!”

What I saw shook me.

The beaming face of a child smiling back at me. I’m guessing he was 13, tall for his age, but a child.

He said “Damn, you and me must be the fastest walkers in this city!!!”, and he laughed.

And i laughed back, somewhat in relief.

The two of us did our lockstep fast walk for another block, commenting on how much fun it is to walk fast. Accelerating and making car noises.

We reached an intersection and he went his way and I went mine. And we said goodbye.

And I began imagining if I’d had a gun and wasn’t as cool and streetwise as I have become over the years living in many big cities.

He was a child, playing an innocent game with a stranger.

Just having fun.

Blissfully unaware of lots of things, as children should be.

11 responses to “Trayvon Martin RIP

  1. I grew up just outside the city; my father in some rough areas on the South Side. Whenever I came into the city for school or work, my father would try to send me off with pepper spray, which I always left behind. I never understood this paranoia, frankly, and wonder if Zimmerman thinks in this way. If he believed before that the world was out to get him, then his paranoia meter must be on, like, six trillion right now.

    • jaime, i kind of understand that. when i lived in boston i lived in a area that bordered an african american neighborhood called Mattapan. So i would get off the train in the african american neighborhood and walk to my side of town. i had lived in new york. this wasn’t a problem. and then one day i mentioned this to a co-worker. and he replied “what would you do if your car broke down in Mattapan?” like i would be instantly eaten alive or something. very strange. I would have changed the offending tire man!

  2. Thanks for sharing that story Vinny, it made me both sad and hopeful at the same time. Being a graphic designer I never like to use the phrase “don’t judge the book by its cover” but in this case it fits quite right. Reminds me of the time when I got hit by a snowball in the eye when I was 10, and the one who helped me to go see the school nurse was an older boy who went by the name of Ziggy punk. I had been afraid of him for years but of course he turned out to be the nicest guy in school. That incident was probably the most valuable lesson I had all that winter.

  3. …and the biggest sensation is a movie about kids killing other kids.
    Is the soundtrack to all this madness Bernstein’s ‘I want to live in America’ with the emphasis on LIVE.

  4. According to Sir John of Hegarty, ‘…where you have your offices reflects what you are. That is why, when accountants run creative businesses, they more often or not make the mistake of locating the company where it’s cheap rather than where it’s inspiring.’ Is it time to move?
    Separately did you pick up Ben Kay’s D&Ad’s and did you manage to plough through them. When would you say British Advertising’s halcyon period was? Cramer Saatchi in the late 60’s through to mid to late 80’s with CDP’S creative drop-off?

  5. Footnote: Isn’t Florida, America’s penal colony?

  6. Think this should be shared with your readers, Vinny.
    http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott/2009/07/don’t-over-think-it-2/

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