"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
Black and White (Are You Experienced?) - Part II
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
Part II – It’s the Little Things
When I was a kid, of about 10 or 11 years old, my younger brother (9 or 10) and I would visit my grandparents’ house. My grandmother sometimes would let us walk to a little store about a mile away to get a soda, candy or snack. There wasn’t a straight road to the store and we had to wind our way through this quasi-rural residential area of Florida. It was in an older, established small town with a mixture of small acre homesteads with fruit trees, vegetable gardens, old trucks up on blocks and rusted tractors, next to cute little cottages containing nice old ladies, young families and old codgers mixed about. We were told to “stay on the roads and don’t cause trouble.” Still, after getting use to making the trip via the roads several times, we started checking out ways to shorten the distance with an eye towards satisfying the child’s constant need for entertainment. My grandmother’s warning about staying on the roads grew fainter as the weeks went by.
This was long before the Electronic Revolution had sucked all the kids indoors, and exploring this relatively unfamiliar neighborhood made staying home feel so confining. That was the real purpose of going to the store, “to get out of the house.” One day we cut through a small orange grove. This adventure inspired us the next time to cut through Old Man Smith’s cool backyard complete with tall weeds around various old farm equipment, gopher turtles and chickens. The next time we cut through, a little bolder this time, my brother noticed an old shed that looked mysterious. He wanted to see what was in it; I said no because “We’ll get in trouble.” It didn’t feel right, but as a child I could only articulate references to obeying the rules imposed by authorities backed by threats of violence.
The training at the state-funded holding facilities was setting in as designed, but I still had a feeling in my gut that this was not mine and it was obviously somebody else’s who didn’t want us looking in there. This was no longer “just cutting through.” It had a door that was locked for a reason and looking in the window was difficult to justify with curiosity, even for a ten year-old. A man lived in the nearby house that was in plain sight, but my brother wanted to look in the window on the side and I told him I was leaving him as he started to climb on some crates. About that time the old man comes out the back screen door carrying a .22 rifle and screaming “What are you kid’s doing!?” My brother and I looked at each other, and then when the spring pulled the screen door back so hard that it slammed loudly, we thought he was shooting at us. We jumped about three feet in the air and made like the Road Runner straight for grandma’s house.
Obviously looking agitated, she got us to tell her the story. She just said, “Oh my Lord, mercy me, come on,” and led us back down the street to the neighbor’s house. He was out by the shed checking to see if there was any damage or missing items when he looked up, saw us coming and squinted his eyes. We nearly panicked.
My grandmother waited until we got close enough to speak in a normal voice and said hello. The Old Man leaned his rifle against the shed and walked over to the fence and said “Hello, Ms. Davis.” My brother and I were relieved somewhat but not sure what was going to happen.
“Mr. Smith, my grandsons here tell me they were in your backyard, and I want to apologize.” She looked at us and said, “You two say you’re sorry to Mr. Smith for scaring him and tell him you won’t do it again.” Our first thought was “We scared him!?”, but we quickly complied, eager to resolve this situation and get back to the safety of our grandma’s home.
“You kid’s could get hurt back here. Thank you, Ms. Davis.” was all he said before turning to huff and puff back over to pick up his rifle, muttering something about kids as he walked back to the house. He seemed upset and we thought it was because he thought we were trying to steal from him. Later I understood that it was because he had almost shot at two little boys. We walked back home quietly. The lecture would come from my dad.
“You stay on the roads. Don’t go on private property, you could get shot.” My father started out bluntly.
“We weren’t trying to steal anything,” we protested.
“He doesn’t know that. He might have thought you were some other kids that have been breaking his windows and other stuff lately. You could have been a varmint or bear. He’s old, can’t hear well and can’t see so good either. But this isn’t just about Old Man Smith’s backyard, I’m telling you to respect people’s property and stay off it unless they invite you on it. Understand?!”
Not totally getting it, I still thought like a child and was more worried about the punishment I was taught to fear. The logic of property rights was beyond my simple young mind, but the feeling of respect for other people’s stuff was there. Still, I had to ask, “Do you think he’d shoot us?”
My dad looked at us seriously. “When I was a boy, I had a dog named Blackey. Good dog, but he was always getting into the neighbors’ trash and even barking at them in their own yards. I’d hear him and go call him as quick as I could, but one day Old Man Smith told me that ‘The next time that dog gets in my garbage or attacks me, I’m gonna have to shoot it!’”
My brother and I were getting big wide eyes as my dad continued, “A couple of weeks later, I wasn’t home, and Blackey went over there and got in his garbage.”
“Did he shoot him?!”
“Yep, I had to go over and get him and bring him home in my arms. He’s buried right over there.” He pointed to a place in the yard as he slowly drew out his words. “So don’t go on someone else’s property where you don’t belong.”
“Yes sir!” And that little warning got me by until I was able to read some Rothbard (and others) and reconcile my feelings about what’s right with the logic of what’s right. So coming from the perspective of this type of life experience, my interpretation of events like what happened in Sanford are likely different from someone with life experiences that are perceived as racial persecution. With this understanding, I will offer how I act and think other people should interact under similar circumstances.
How do we treat people who look suspicious and/or people who think we are suspicious looking? My job takes me into strange neighborhoods, white and black, regularly. I have to inspect apartments, condos, subdivisions and commercial buildings in nice as well as rough areas. So I’ve had to deal with this type of interaction many times and yes, I’m experienced. Sometimes a person will just watch me from their yard, sometimes they call the cops and sometimes they confront me. I totally understand that the people living in these locations, rich and poor, black and white, don’t know who I am and my looking around is suspicious behavior. When I was younger and in a hurry, I would just try to complete my inspections as quickly as possible in an effort to arouse a minimum of concern. But this just got me pulled over down the road because somebody called in my tag and description to the cops. So I learned to as casually as possible approach concerned observers, introduce myself and tell them why I was there. Later I learned to use these encounters to expand my knowledge of the area by asking questions.
Not once has it ever occurred to me to be aggressive, much less punch somebody in the face and beat the crap out of them, even when I’ve been profiled as a white guy in a black neighborhood trying to buy crack. Some ten or so gang members at an old apartment in downtown Tampa that was abandoned to crack dealers and prostitutes and scheduled to be demolished and redeveloped once chased me back to my car and threw rocks at it as I sped off. They thought that I was trying to take pictures of them, not the buildings, and were pretty pissed off. Of course, they yelled racial slurs and cursed me. That experience got me pretty emotional, but my response was to go my own way peacefully.
So how should people react when someone falsely believes that you “are up to no good”? Prove that you aren’t: introduce yourself and explain why you are there. If they threaten you and you can get away, retreat with haste. Perhaps this is where different experiences come into play; where a black person who has been “stalked” by a white person because, in the black person’s mind, they are only being followed because of their race. I’m sorry, but I don’t group-think that way. Still, I just can’t see such a “dis” rising to the level that it justifies initiating a violent response.
The last point I want to make is about the escalation of violence once it has been initiated. Again, it is important to recognize who initiated the violence. As explained above, observing is not violence, and neither is following someone, especially a stranger in your own neighborhood. Many like to term what happened in Sanford as “stalking” in an effort to make rational, cautious behavior sound threatening. The purpose is to try and justify Mr. Martin’s reported attack on Mr. Zimmerman. The argument that usually follows this is that Mr. Martin was unarmed and Mr. Zimmerman had a gun, therefore Mr. Zimmerman should have just taken his butt-whooping without resorting to using his weapon.
It is important to distinguish between two people who engage in a physical struggle voluntarily and two people who are struggling as the result of the violent attack made by one on the other. If I get in a bar fight over a game of pool, a cheating spouse or such, and then when I start to lose the fight I pull out a weapon, most people will look at this action as wrong. That is an unreasonable escalation of violence or changing the rules in the middle of the game. But if a stranger violently attacks me and I am losing the fight, it is reasonable to believe that my life is in danger and time to use the weapon that I carry for the purpose of self-defense. Especially when you consider the possibility that the attacker may take the weapon and use it on me.
Now, again, I don’t know what really happened, and it is possible that Mr. Zimmerman somehow overcame the apparent initial violent attack by the bigger young man and ended up on top of Mr. Martin. If Mr. Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin out of anger when his life was no longer in danger, then that is second degree murder and he should go to jail. Hopefully the trial will help determine the truth and justice will be served, although I don’t put a lot of faith in monopoly state justice systems. Politicians and mobs demanding blood are not conducive to justice.
The purpose of this essay is to address the discussion that has surrounded the case, not the case itself. The demonization of white people by black racists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is a sin and counterproductive. We need to get back to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream of “Judging people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” This is how reasonable people act towards each other if they want peace, not by grouping them into camps of “us and them.” If we humans of all races and places are going to “get along,” it will be because we respect each other as individuals and judge people by the “content of their character.” This is how moral behavior transcends the pack mentality. Looking at people based on the pack, herd, clan, tribe or state they come from is how mankind destroys what limited gains we have made to rise above other animals.
In 1968, the year that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, American culture saw a phoenix arise out of those ashes in the form of a musical genius. Jimi Hendrix, to me, represented the culmination of the merging of black and white culture in America. Yes, we can get along, even enjoy and cheer for each other, as individuals, based on our character and respect-worthy actions. Not on what groups we want to identify with or demonize. Appealing to central authorities and inherently violent institutions will lead to more of the same divide-and-rule policies and strife. Let us instead reach out to each other. As Jimi Hendix finished the song started at the beginning of this piece sang:
Trumpets and violins I can hear in distance
I think they're calling our names
Maybe now you can't hear them, but you will
If you just take hold of my hand
Oh, but are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful...
Enjoy this American Classic here.