Once, probably when I was in college or shortly thereafter, I was walking around my parents’ suburban neighborhood, the one where I grew up in Northern Virginia. I forget why. Maybe I needed some fresh air and time to think, maybe I was walking to 7-11. Maybe both.
Whatever the reason, it was summer, probably after midnight. I was about half a mile from home, strolling on the side of Sugarland Run Drive. A Loudoun County sheriff pulled up behind me, flashed his lights and asked to see my ID. Luckily, I had my wallet, proving I lived within walking distance of the very spot where we had our little meeting.
Do you think the cop would have stopped me if I’d been driving?
No, and that is the mostly unexamined aspect of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Yes, race is a factor in his death, and I do not at all mean to play it down. There already is loud debate on that (just drop by Facebook), as well as a debate over gun laws. There’s less noise about how we treat pedestrians in this country (though I did find this thoughtful piece on the subject).
It probably sounds like a joke. But I’m deadly serious. I was almost hit by a minivan the other day while jogging across a busy street IN A CROSSWALK ON A GREEN LIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. The driver glared at me as if I were in the wrong
In suburbs, gated or not, “normal” people are expected to be in cars. Oh sure, we tolerate pedestrians during the day, as long as they don’t try to cross the street when we want to hang a quick left. At night, it’s a whole different story. Anyone on foot is suspect, regardless of race. For some people, I’m sure, race only heightens suspicion that is already there.
It’s sad. But if Trayvon Martin was up to no good, why would he be walking along the road where any car could see him? The truth, obviously, is that he was just coming back from the store. But he had the double misfortune to be both black and on foot in a suburb where both were — and probably still are — out of the ordinary.
In that, the Orlando suburbs are far from alone.