Structural racism as public policy

Palm Beach County, FL — It was the week before Halloween in 2003 when Jay Levin responded to noises outside by opening his front door, naked, with a gun in his hand.

He saw a big guy running from the door, he told police later, but also said the guy turned back and came toward him. That probably happened, maybe the guy was doing a double take, because it’s not every day that a homeowner gets up in the middle of the night and naked, throws the front door open. Levin responded to whatever he saw — a double-take? a hallucination? and fired his gun, fatally shooting the guy who was by this time running, because he was shot in the back.

The guy, it turned out, was his 16-year-old neighbor, a kid named Mark Drewes playing a “ring-and-run” prank with friends.

A little more than two weeks later, police charged Levin with manslaughter. He hired Roy Black to represent him, and after a day of listening to Roy Black get all 60 odd people in the jury pool to tell what their homes meant to them, an agonizing exercise in unleashing individual narcissism, as each embellished their explanations with examples of specific decorating touches that made their homes their castles, the prosecution threw up its hands and let Levin plead out to an arrangement that gave him a year of weekends in the county jail.

That was before the “shoot first” or “stand your ground” law, which basically says that if someone looks at you funny and doesn’t get away fast enough, you can kill them. Drewes actually had initiated the encounter, by going to Levin’s door, the object being to tie a string to his door knocker. Drewes, like Levin, was white.

So looking at what happened, or didn’t happen to Levin, who shot a kid in the back, was asked nicely to turn himself in more than two weeks later, and got about 100 days in jail, with a week off to recover after every two, you can see there were some basic problems with every Caspar Milquetoast Rambo Wannabee asshole in Florida being allowed to own a gun.

Add a town where the definition of “suspicious” already has ended the lives of a series of black teenaged boys, and a law that makes looking suspicious a death penalty offense, and you’ve got the death of Trayvon Martin.

The main squeeze was mentioning how the death of Trayvon Martin, a kid visiting out of town relatives in a town with more deeply entrenched and bizaare racist mores than the town he came from, made him think of the death of Emmett Till. There is that resemblance. This one though, says something about the purposeful structure of our society. Can it be that in the relentless pandering to the mentality that led to the death of Emmett Till, things have gotten worse since then?


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