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.