Self-defense or private defense (see spelling differences) is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one’s property, or the well-being of another from harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many jurisdictions, but the interpretation varies widely.

Last night after the verdict was announced, my neighbors were blaring what sounded like disco and setting off fireworks. My neighbors set off fireworks starting June 1 and going until they run out, and apparently this year they bought out a warehouse or something. If I was a lighter sleeper it would make me crazy, but these days between my migraines and my insane work schedule I sleep like the dead. I don’t care what they get up to unless they set something on fire near my car.

I woke up to a message from a relative worried that there would be riots and gunshots in the city. Because it’s the city.

You know, where those people live.

The root of the entire Zimmerman defense, that he felt legitimately threatened by a kid in a hoodie with candy and tea, is the pathology that infects us precisely because of our segregation, because of our lack of exposure to one another. Because of our persistent belief that if we just move far enough away, if we just put up a high enough gate, if we just build a big wall of money around us higher than any ladder anyone can invent, we’ll be safe, and the way we know we’re safe is that everybody looks just like us, and acts just like us, and we know all their faces and everything is fine.

And if we see somebody behind that wall who isn’t dressed like us, who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t walk or talk or act like us, we are not just exposed to difference and oh hey I wonder where he’s going oh well wanna go get a beer. We are threatened. We are invaded. We are no longer safe on “our” streets and in “our” homes. We must glare and front off and give chase, and if that different person turns around on us, we must kill, because he’s not just living his life, this kid walking home.

He’s mounting an assault on us, by being here. He’s up to no good. He’s infecting us all with something wrong, something dark, and that thought is enough to make us feel so powerless that we must take that power back with a gun.

We are so goddamned paranoid all the time that we actually think our paranoia gives us legitimate reason to kill. We are so goddamned isolated that we view even the presence of a young black man as a threat on par with great bodily harm or death. We shy away from the unfamiliar like we’re skittish horses, clutch our purses tight, cross the street. Buy a gun. And we think that keeps us safe.

That ensures we are not safe. If a kid walking home can be legally shot because some overly-aggro wannabe action hero thinks he’s a threat, I’m not safe walking home either. You’re not safe in an unfamiliar place if we consider this reason to murder. None of us are safe, because no matter how hard we try, no matter how high the wall we build or how strong the gate and the locks, we are all going to be somewhere unfamiliar at some point in our lives, and in that moment someone could look at us and think we don’t belong.

And chase us down. And shoot. And kill.

I wrote back to this concerned relative that I basically live in Mayberry and there was nothing to worry about except that apparently we no longer live in a society that values the lives of all of us equally, but that some teenagers nearby were setting off bottle rockets, so I supposed I’d better go get myself a rifle just in case a ground war broke out.


6 thoughts on “Defense

  1. On my run this morning I passed a sort of scruffy-looking black dude just ambling down the street, minding his own business, and it honestly only registered because I was amused that I felt far less threatened by this guy than by the over-privileged white dude in a bar yesterday who wouldn’t leave my sweaty ass alone to just drink my damn beer and eat a burger after a long, hot bike ride.
    Except I’m sure the white dude had no idea I felt threatened and on my guard.

  2. I like your comments, but wonder about your statement “…nothing to worry about except that apparently we no longer live in a society that values the lives of all of us equally…” When in our country’s history has that been the case? I was born and raised in Central Louisiana, and can never recall a time (I’m sixty-six) when black folks were treated as equals. A teaching career in public schools and living in an integrated neighborhood has fully demonstrated to me the fallacy of the old southern, white way of doing things. I hope for a better day, but do not anticipate it in my lifetime. There is hope, though. My granddaughter has friends staying over all the time, representing every ethnic/racial group. To her, they are just good friends.

  3. I feel a lot safer in the city than I do in the country.
    And snowballs won’t melt in hell before I ever set foot in Florida again.

  4. “…we no longer live in a society that values the lives of all of us equally”
    when exactly was the halcyon era, pray tell?

  5. I was disappointed but not surprised by the verdict. That said, maybe I’m just naive, but I now feel the need to go back and re-read every zombie-related work I’ve ever read, looking for racist undertones. Because I bet I’ll find some.

  6. I think she’s referring to when we at least knew we were SUPPOSED to value all life equally and could often be shamed into doing the right thing when the world was watching. It looks like that sense of shame is no longer operative.

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