“Whatchu doin’ hyar, boy?”

Some years ago, my boss and I were on the way home from a business trip, and decided to stop for the night at the home of a mutual friend who lived in a gated community in Sacramento. Some time around midnight I woke wanting a cigarette and a short walk, so I went outside. A few minutes later I was accosted by the security guard employed by the homeowners’ association: What was I doing there?

I responded without excitement. Holding my hands in plain sight and open, I approached the rent-a-cop with a casual gait. “I’m Ric Locke,” I told him. “My boss and I are visiting at [address]; that’s our van, with Texas tags, sitting in front. I just came out for a smoke and a short walk.” He asked to see my ID, and I shrugged and showed him my driver’s license. Strictly speaking, he didn’t have the authority to demand ID — but I thought then, and think now, that since he asked politely and had an obvious, valid concern, showing him ID was a reasonable thing to do. He handed it back, apologized for bothering me, and said they’d had some recent break-ins. We discussed the matter casually for a few minutes and parted amicably, and I went back in and went to bed.

The parallel should be obvious. What if, instead of acting furtive and trying to get away, Trayvon Martin had recognized that the other residents of the community might have a valid concern? He might have approached George Zimmerman, keeping an unthreatening pose, and said, “Hi, I’m Trayvon Martin. We’re visiting [family] at [address], and my little brother and I wanted some Skittles, so I walked down to the convenience store to get them.” What would the likely result have been?

From what we know and observe of the character of Zimmerman, it’s very likely that his suspicion might well have turned to concern — especially when he discovered that Trayvon’s little brother was home alone. People are entitled to visit one another, and the simple truth would have provided Trayvon Martin with all the justification he needed to convince Zimmerman that he wasn’t there for any nefarious purpose. Zimmerman might still have been suspicious, but it would have been easy enough for him to check with the residents when they got home; that would have confirmed Martin’s story. In the meantime, it would be sufficient to see Martin admitted to the home by someone already inside, taking note that although it looked all right, it might be best to check further, later on.

/Of all the sad words/Of tongue or pen/The saddest are these/”It might have been.”/ It didn’t happen that way, and somebody got dead because it didn’t. Why didn’t it happen like that?

There are a lot of reasons, but they eventually boil down to: Somebody told Trayvon Martin he couldn’t do it that way, that “they” were Out to Get Him and the thing to do was break contact and get away. Trouble is, trying to break contact is exactly the behavior a suspicious person would see as requiring additional suspicion. Martin had the right to be there — but he didn’t act like he did; he acted exactly like someone would act who was casing the joint, looking for opportunities for petty theft. And he acted like that because somebody (several somebodies, no doubt) told him that was the right thing to do.

They lied.