Last month, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old teen, was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Trayvon had walked to the nearby convenience store for Skittles and iced tea during the halftime break of the NBA All-Star Game. He was fatally shot on his way home from the store by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood in an SUV and called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy." The watchman was afraid because he didn't recognize the teen, who was visiting his dad.
Steven Eugene Washington was shot by gang enforcement officers near Los Angeles' Koreatown. The officers were afraid because Steven was looking around suspiciously and appeared to remove something from his waistband, so they shot him. Steven was unarmed.
On a sunny June morning, Reginald Latson, an 18-year-old with Asperger syndrome, was sitting under a tree. Someone at the elementary school across the street was afraid and called police to report a suspicious person sitting outside the library who "might" have a gun. Concerned that a gunman was on the loose, officials shut down six area schools and went on a manhunt for this dangerous man sitting in the grass. When the teen was accosted a half-hour later, a search found no weapon.
Sixteen-year-old Travares McGill was sitting in his car in a Sanford, Fla., parking lot when he was surprised by private armed guards in 2005. The teen pulled away in his car. The guards shot him in the back and killed him. A judge dismissed manslaughter charges after the guards claimed Traveres was trying to run them over.
A few years ago, Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori rang the doorbell of the wrong house while looking for a Halloween party. He was shot and killed by a resident afraid of the approaching stranger. The homeowner, who was reacting to his wife's panic, was subsequently acquitted by a Louisiana court.
In 24 states, "stand your ground" laws permit people to use deadly force if they feel threatened, even if they can safely avoid confrontation by leaving the scene. Critics call these "shoot first" laws because the assailant must only "reasonably believe" that danger is imminent when pulling the trigger.
A strange teen walking through an upscale community, a strange car in your driveway, a stranger approaching your house are seen as dangerous, potential criminals, not as someone coming home from the store, a man searching for a lost dog or someone who accidentally came to the wrong address.
Driven by fear and mistrust, people believe that everyone is a potential foe waiting to kill them. "Beware of strangers. Don't trust anybody. Everyone is your enemy. Everyone is out to get you" is what we believe.
We pass this fear on to our children, teaching them that every stranger is an enemy. Children no longer play outdoors because parents are afraid someone will kidnap them.
If our first reaction to others is fear and suspicion, the result is an aggressive, paranoid society where everyone expects danger from each person he meets. A trigger-happy culture, we shoot first, ask questions later. Then we wonder why the crime rate is rising.
Perhaps we're contributing to crime by raising a fearful, hostile generation while thinking we are only trying to protect ourselves and our children.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear.
"Trayvon Martin Case: Timeline of Events," ABC News, abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/trayvon-martin-case-timeline-of-events
"Teen with Asperger's Arrested: Were callers racial profiling?" Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reibel/teen-with-aspergers-arres_b_610530.html?ref=twitter
"Steven Eugene Washington, Unarmed Autistic Man, Killed By LAPD," Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/23/steven-eugene-washington_n_509392.html
"Fla. 'Stand Your Ground' author may seek changes," CBS News, www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57401955/stand-your-ground-author-may-seek-changes
"Yoshihiro Hattori," Article Collections, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/keyword/yoshihiro-hattori
"Yoshihiro Hattori," Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshihiro_Hattori