Racism and gun culture? Gotta be time for Bob in the Heights

The reasons why vary from topic to topic, but I don’t always have something worthwhile to say on every hot story du jour while it’s driving the cable news echo chamber nutty; the shooting of Trayvon Martin is one example.  But my friend Bob Eddy has something worthwhile to say about that, and related issues to which it gives rise, and I asked him to say it here; the comments button is right up there:

Watching, and listening, to the continuing story of the Trayvon Martin shooting—which after a good run in the media is already being pushed aside by our latest multiple shooting, in Oakland—I think beyond the hoodies and other nonsensical side stories basically lie two societal issues that continue to plague America today: racism and our gun culture. And I might add, a tip of the hat to today’s rabid media, which remain so ready to leap before looking. As soon as this story became hot (oddly, almost a month after the event) sides were taken. When did it all slide from investigative reporting of known facts toward conjecture and opinion? I’m guessing somewhere around the start of the 24/7 TV news cycle, which also gave birth to the polished and primped Ken and Barbie bobble heads passing for journalists today. Somewhere, Water Cronkite is crying in his grave.

No, I’m not accusing George Zimmerman of being a racist, but much like the Rodney King beating at the hands of the L.A. police and the O.J. Simpson trial, America’s visceral divide has suddenly become exposed and naked to the sun like the sensitive underbelly of a turtle tipped onto its back. Why is it that our country is so reluctant to talk about race—is it painful? Still too touchy a subject even 50 years past the civil rights movement of the 60s? That’s half a century, folks. Healing starts with self-awareness, not denial. The truth sets you free and allows you to move on. These thoughts were recently provoked by an excellent opinion piecein the Houston Chronicle.

Yes, the days of the Jim Crow laws are long gone, and we have a black president (even some black pro football coaches!), but this doesn’t negate the statistical facts (rate of unemployment and incarceration, to name two) that prove racism’s more subtle vestiges remain, revealing a less than level playing field in America today. Using the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin as an easy example, I challenge anyone to look at me with a straight face and convince me that had the “colors” been reversed, the outcome would have been the same. Yes, I’m talking about a Twilight Zone world where an armed black man trolling the streets of a gated community follows a “suspicious looking” young white man—11 years younger and 20 pounds lighter than he, I might add—ignores the pleas of the 911 dispatcher to stay in his vehicle, and instead challenges, and then shoots the other man dead in a scuffle, declares self-defense, and after a brief trip to the station is set free with no charges filed.  “Well Mr. Washington, everything seems to be in order, just a couple of things to sign here…poor son of a bitch…now you be more careful next time, hear?”

Back on planet Earth, any black man cruising an affluent neighborhood in America today is much more likely (again, check the statistics for racial profiling) to experience only one thing: being pulled over and questioned, and if he’s lucky, that’s all. Ask Robbie Tolan, a [Houston area] 23 year old black male (and son of an ex-professional baseball player) who on New Years Eve 2008 was shot at three times (fortunately only wounded) by the local police after pulling into his parents’ driveway—in front of his hysterical and pleading mom! As a matter of fact, it was the cop’s manhandling of his mother that provoked Tolan, who was already lying on the ground as instructed, to protest. You see, unfortunately mom and dad lived in Bellaire, a predominately white and affluent city tucked inside of Houston, and, well, it was 2:00 in the morning, and there was the (inaccurate) report of a stolen vehicle…

To me, the bottom line is George Zimmerman in all probability wasn’t necessarily a bad guy; evidently, to many, he was even likable and would fall outside the definition, if there is such a quantifiable thing, of a racist. But on that day, against the advice of a 911 dispatcher and contrary to his training as a neighborhood watch person, he provoked a common misunderstanding, it quickly went south, and he chose to defuse the situation with a gun—sentencing Trayvon’s parents to an empty life of grief and unfulfilled dreams. For this he should be held accountable.

For those of you interested in a, granted, lengthy, but reasonable and balanced account of events leading up to this tragic shooting, I encourage reading this story in Sunday’s Times.

Which leads to our second national topic, and an important question I think America needs to ask itself today: are we, as a society, ready to accept armed neighborhood watchdogs? If yes, well, all I’ve got to say is get ready for a lot more of this. Does anyone really feel any safer? Certainly not Trayvon Martin. He’s dead. Welcome to the utopian world of the NRA, where roughly 30,000 Americans a year lose their lives to bullets, and every American—thanks to our permissive own and carry gun laws and under the protection of the “stand your ground” ruling (currently upheld in 27 states)—can legally find themselves judge, jury, and executioner in a split, life-changing second. Ask Joe Horn, of Pasadena, Texas, who in 2007 also chose to ignore the repeated advice of the 911 dispatcher he called, and while still on the line, shotgunned in the back two unarmed Hispanic burglars as they fled his neighbor’s house—and got acquitted of any charges. What a civic hero!

The fact that the latest gun rampage in Oakland is already relegated to “ho-hum,” on page five in my local paper, speaks volumes about our unique American culture. Oh, I know, I can hear the outcry now, as it did after the Virginia Tech massacre: “If only one of those students had a gun!!” Yes, any logical person can see that the answer to easy gun access is, well, more guns. Recently, 22-year-old Trey Sesler of Waller County, Texas had more guns—six, to be exact—and he used them to kill his parents and brother. Ho hum…

Who do we have to blame for this? No one but ourselves and the gutless politicians of both parties who bow down before arguably the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington today. After all, even after the nearly-successful assassination attempt on one of their own, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, America watched as Congress, and this Administration, stood united in their silence. I mean, come on, when is the last time the NRA got slapped down on anything? Almost comically, these patriotic defenders of our Second Amendment recently became so imaginative in their quest to stay on a roll that they dreamed up muscling state legislation through in Missouri, Alabama, and Tennessee to protect gun owners from the scourge of discrimination. Say what!? Oh, the oppression and shame!

I guess my biggest puzzlement is I just don’t get the frothing, rampant paranoia of suppression—have you seen this recent “interview” of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre? Short of mail-ordering a howitzer from the back of a comic book, exactly what can’t your average gun enthusiast today do—hunt with a Gatling gun? Has Obama even mentioned the words “gun control” once since becoming president? Yet gun sales continue to skyrocket, because we all know “He’s going to take away our guns!!” Like the screwball prophets predicting the end of time, it’s coming any day now! Ironically, Barack Obama is the best thing that ever happened to gun shop owners.

Well, enough said…this horse got out of the barn a long time ago, and I can’t imagine what it would take to get it back in. But remember, citizens: stay vigilant! Guns don’t kill people—hoodies do.

Bob in the Heights

[One update: this week the police officers in the Robbie Tolan case, previously acquitted on the criminal charges, were dropped as defendants from Tolan’s civil suit by the federal judge hearing the case. PR]

2 thoughts on “Racism and gun culture? Gotta be time for Bob in the Heights

  1. Robbie Tolan was shot, not because of his race, but because he threatened a police officer who was only trying to calm a difficult situation to check out a stolen car report. How do I know? Because a jury and now a federal judge, both of whom actually reviewed real evidence, rather than mere allegations and race-baiting rhetoric, said so. Maybe you should read what Robbie Tolan admitted about his actions before you go off opining based upon a complete lack of facts.

    1. First, my inference wasn’t that Tolan got shot because he was black, I said he got pulled over because he was black – but more on that in a minute.

      Your response includes “How do I know? Because a jury and now a federal judge, both of whom actually reviewed real evidence, rather than mere allegations and race-baiting rhetoric, said so.” Indeed – well, how do you know? I’m guessing you’re making this assumption about what was said based on the final ruling, which was in favor of the Bellaire police. You go on to say that “Maybe you should read what Robbie Tolan admitted about his actions before you go off opining based upon a complete lack of facts.” OK, help us all out here and provide this document or transcript, including your source, and I’d be interested in reading it. I admit, I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, or anything even close, on the case, and perhaps you’ve followed it closer than I.

      Sorry though, my jaw dropped an inch when reading in your closing statement “…before you go off opining based upon a complete lack of facts.” And then I laughed!

      You can go to virtually any website – I’ll site this one, from the Jan. 11, 2009 Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Bellaire-police-shooting-unearths-racial-unease-1585181.php#page-2), and find out Bellaire’s population of 16,000 includes about 150 blacks, and yet they represent 22% of all traffic stops. Hispanics have even more reason to worry, they make up 35% of that pie. This article also includes further testimony from black residents who have good reason to feel a little uneasy when going about their day.

      Again, using the same social experiment that I applied to the Trayvon Martin case, and the facts of the Tolan shooting that are generally agreed upon by both sides: if a white teen and his cousin were pulled over in Bellaire at 2:00 in the morning under the assumption that they were driving a stolen car, I imagine things might have gone the same – up onto a point. Don’t you think that by time his distraught and confused mother came out and identified the two youths and confirmed that this was their home and driveway, that at least the guns would have been holstered? And after the called-in license number confusion cleared up, apologies made? Come on, be honest! Instead (by most accounts), his understandably hysterical mother – after all, guns were drawn — was pushed, or shoved against the garage door, and Robbie Tolan reacted. Wouldn’t you? How would you honestly feel at that point, lying on your front lawn at gunpoint watching a policeman physically confront your mom? Maybe a little bit of outrage?

      Look, I’m not a white man plagued with racial guilt – I’m simply a white man ready to concede, or acknowledge, that a black person’s world in America today poses certain subtle, and not so subtle, challenges (to put it politely) that a white person will never be able to fully understand. How could we, we’ve never been black. But we’re all racists of a varying degree (see the editorial from my original post http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/We-must-acknowledge-the-existence-of-racism-in-3448338.php) and we can’t help it, it’s human nature – so why can’t we talk about it?

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