Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

A State of Conflict


I haven’t blogged in a week because I’ve been unsure how to write about what’s been on my mind, namely the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy. I don’t usually post about politics and current events, but I really can’t move forward without addressing this event which has affected my country and me personally on a deep level. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, and that’s okay. All I ask is that comments remain respectful.

What I find so upsetting about this tragedy is that a man shot a teenager and the teenager died… and it could have been so easily avoided. The man could have not jumped to conclusions about the teenager’s purpose in the neighborhood, conclusions which turned out to be wrong and lead to the teenager’s death. The man could have stayed in his car and waited for the police to arrive. The man could have identified himself to the teenager immediately. The teenager could have continued walking home and ignored the man. The teenager and the man could have confronted each other in a more diplomatic way.

The law in Florida says the man had the right to defend himself if he thought his life was in danger. And the teenager? All he knew was a man was following him in a car. In his eyes, the man could have been a murderer, a sex offender, a pervert, or just an asshole.

How many times had this young, Black teen been looked at suspiciously in his life? How many times had he passed a White woman and felt the tension and fear in her body language? How many times had he been followed in a store? Could that night have been the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Instead of ignoring this “crazy ass cracker” or running home, he decided to confront him. Would he have done so if he knew the man was carrying a loaded weapon?

When I was discussing this with an elderly Black man the other day, he countered that the teenager should have known better than confronting the man. “Where were his parents?” “Why hadn’t they taught him how to act?”

What he meant was that every Black man in America has been conditioned to act a certain way when confronted with a person of authority, especially a White person of authority. Even if you’re not a Black male, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the cops, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a right way and a wrong way to behave, and the wrong way can get you physically harmed.

But the teenager was not a man. He was only a few weeks into his 17th year. Should we expect him to have known how to “behave?” Should he have been chaperoned while walking to the store for some candy?

My feeling is that when there is an altercation between a teenager and a grown man, the onus is on the grown man to behave responsibly, especially if he’s carrying a loaded weapon. Why would a grown man who is not a police officer get out of his car to search for (what he perceives as) a potentially dangerous criminal alone on a dark and rainy night? What if the potential criminal (in the man’s eyes) had had a weapon too? The man knew he was dealing with a teenager, and he knew the teenager had seen him. Did he expect to pursue him  and NOT be confronted?

The case upsets me on so many levels, I find myself going in circles in my mind about what could/should have happened that night, how this death could have been avoided, what would that teenager have become had he lived, what the parents must be feeling, what do other parents tell their children now, and how something like this could be avoided in the future. I think the answer to the latter lies in PERCEPTION… as in, how do we perceive each other?

Would you perceive a Black male wearing a hoodie walking slowly through your neighborhood as a threat?

Would you perceive a Hispanic man following you slowly in a car through your neighborhood as a threat?

If so, what would you do about it? How would you handle the situation?

There’s a reason why this 1973 photo taken by Joe Crachiola of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral. It captures a spirit of innocence and acceptance that so many of us yearn for. If you’ve ever watched children at play, you know that they have no concept of these matters. They have no life experience upon which to build assumptions. They relate to each other on a core basic level.

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

Is it only possible when we’re young? Or can we see each other as human beings, not labels, races, genders, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.? Can we not jump to conclusions about each other and instead base our reactions on the individuals before us? Can we see each other as HUMAN BEINGS first?

I believe we can, and we must.

Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

20 thoughts on “A State of Conflict

  1. The picture should be our national anthem, our flag, our motto, our aim.
    Thanks for the post,

  2. Very well said. Excellent post

  3. Beautiful Niva, beautiful.
    That picture is GORGEOUS.

    I’ve been wrapped up myself, and that case has come up this week a couple times. That old black man is so right in a way. There just really is a way to treat people.

    That said, there’s more to it than that. Elders need to be the example, not the problem.

  4. I read your blog every day, faithfully. But I agree with you about not usually writing (or never writing) about politics on blogs; it can lose you followers, offend nice people, and/or taint a good reputation.

    My parents always told me from the time that I was little not to discuss politics, race, religion or sex, if possible. I whole-heartedly agree. My husband and I have best friends who vote differently than we do, they feel differently about religion, and we don’t discuss sex, of course. But, they are still our very dearest friends… Until they drink a little too much and open their mouths. Actually, we have three sets of these friends, of which two are pretty verbal and the other set is just fine. However, when people get all riled up about their opinions (like the Trayvon/Zimmerman thing), it can make you think: why did a teenager smash a grown man’s face and head into the concrete numerous times rather than taking his candy from the store – home, etc.?

    There are always THREE SIDES TO EVERY STORY and everyone needs to remember this: the first story, the other person’s story — and the truth.

    I rest my case. Sorry if I offended anyone in making my point. There is passion in every story and only God really knows the truth.

    P.S. photo is adorable!! 🙂

    • If no one ever spoke about race, religion, politics or sex how would this planet ever get by? Those are all extremely important topics and they need to be discussed if we are to continue to move forward as a species. If we don’t discuss sex ever how are we all meant to know what to do? How are we ever meant to teach our children how to behave in regards to the opposite sex? If we don’t ever talk about politics who is going to run countries? How will we decide who to vote for? How will we ever get people to change their minds if we don’t have thorough debates? If we don’t talk about race how are the minorities ever to be treated as they deserve?

      If we all sat idly letting life pass by, then we’re not doing our duty as active participants in this world. Active, friendly discussion and debate is extremely important and should not be avoided for the sake of making sure people like you or ‘not offending nice people’.

      • Emma,
        Wow. You sure went on in your comment to my response that was written TO Nivaladiva.

        If you read my post again, you will see that I did not say that the aforementioned subjects should NEVER be spoken of, rather I was telling Nivaladiva that my parents said to never discuss them with friends like in a social setting like a Gala affair or an elite party. Maybe it’s alright to hang around a BBQ but, if you want to keep comfortable and be diplomatic with bosses, co-workers, neighbors (or in my case, if you read my words, “our best friends” who are political opposites), it’s best to not bring up those topics.

        I would imagine that the mix of alcohol might also tend to sway the conversation even more and “some” groups might really get into uncomfortable conversations as polar opposites and it could turn out badly. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and no one wants to lose a friend. Or reader, as the case may be…

        So, as I said before, it may not be fodder for your best friend’s dinner table. We have friends that believe everything is going just fine in our country and the others feel as though we’re going to hell in a hand basket. Who’s to say who is right? Only time will tell… But, both sides feel strongly and, interestingly enough, both sides feel that they’re right. So… To play it safe, we don’t get in the middle of that mess.

  5. I’m glad you found a way to put it into words. Very strong post and I will read it again. Thanks Niva.

    I am still reeling and can not speak of it, or express it yet. It has completely freaked me out.

  6. Neva you stated the “what ifs” very well making people jerk up their attention when you reverse the roles in the confrontation. You are as elequent as O and I’m sure the NYTimes editorial was also addressing you today. and yes your photo is adorable as is Mr. Canine’s.

  7. Love you Niva. Keep writing. We need to hear what you have to say. You know my feelings on the matter so I won’t get into it here. Agreed on everything you’ve said here. Levy Lee

  8. I have heard several well known and not so well known commenters (on NPR) mention “the talk” that they have with their children. The Talk is exactly what the gentleman you mentioned is referring to. How to behave in order to avoid being mis-judged. It makes me SICK that parents of color have to have The Talk (in the same way that I hate talking to the women in my practice about sexual assault prevention).
    Well done! ugh ….

  9. I truly believe you nailed it right on the head. And honestly, since you asked, I would be more afraid of a Hispanic man (actually, any man) following me in a car than a teenager in a hoodie walking around. It’s so sad how we view race in this country. I grew up in Detroit (okay, the suburbs), but my high school was very diverse. One of my best friends in middle school was black. I remember the first time I had her come over after school. My mother later said “you never told me she was black!” So what? That meant nothing to me. Back then, we spent hours in our backyard pool trying to obtain the darkest skin color we could, but those with dark skin already, there was something wrong with them? My middle school friend’s home was larger than ours. She ended up driving a better car than me. I simply don’t get it.

  10. Great post.

    I would not like to be followed by a young black man in a hoodie, certainly at night. Nor by a Hispanic man in a car — or ANY man of any race.

    My husband is Hispanic, a Pulitzer-winner NYT 30-yr veteran — and has been mistaken for (!) a day laborer, in front of me, by one of our neighbors. I almost punched the guy. Racism is baked into American thinking and is based on a welter of stereotypes, of not knowing anyone OF that race personally, of media garbage, of fear in general…

    I think there are multiple issues/problems here, the most essential being NO witnesses to this event. But the second most essential, I think, is the lethal combination of a “stand your ground” law plus the easy access to a handgun in Florida. The whole notion of “stand your ground” seems absurd, cowboy-esque bullshit, certainly to me (born and raised in law-abiding Canada). How about “Call the cops”? Yes, OK, maybe not in a bankrupt city like Detroit where it might have taken 20 or 30 minutes or more for cops to arrive…

    It is very difficult and not terribly productive to second-guess what we might do in that moment. The two or three occasions when I really needed a cop’s help FAST, they didn’t show up or came so late the perps had wandered off, sneering at my impotence. My rage and fear were huge — and it’s a damn good thing I did not have a gun in my hand.

    • You know, I’m American born, but grew up in Canada. Within the last 2 weeks alone I have been a party to TWO conversations that made me sick to my stomach, her in Canada. And not because of what they said, but rather ONE word they said. And I really didn’t know what to say. I’m not going to change that sort of racist mindset with a response. In both cases, it was said in order to illicit a response. F that.

      When I was a teen, I was once taking a walk in this little public park along the main street of Ayden, North Carolina. This is the town of about 50,000 my Dad grew up in. We were visiting cousins of ours.

      On the other side of the park were a group of boys. Black boys. Not 15 minutes earlier this 14 year old cousin of ours has told my sister and I how she had SO many black friends in her high school, my sister had had the gal to ask her point blank if she had any black friends… our cousin was showing off.

      When I asked her in the park “do you know those boys?” she said “yes, but we should go home now”. I’m like “why?” she’s like “we don’t associate with them after dark”. This would have been maybe late 70’s, early 80’s. My sister and I still talk about it.

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  12. Good post, good thoughts, beautiful photo. I was thinking about this case/tragedy earlier today and felt, like you, that the onus for correct procedure surely had to be on the security guard. I found myself wondering who his superiors were. Who trained him? Who is he answerable to? What stereotypes and racial profiling has he inherited, been taught, been subjected to himself?

    The world is getting a bit old for this craziness. Surely the internet age shows us more than ever how alike we are, how we all want the same simple things in life, how ignorance and fear lead consistently to violence and hatred. It’s depressing, distressing stuff and further calls for something to be done about the acquitted leave me feeling quite uneasy.

    There’s some fantastic quote from either MLK or Gandhi about seeking or celebrating the demise of an enemy but I can’t for the life of me either find or accurately recall it. Boo. Maybe someone else knows it?

    Good luck to us all.

  13. I have also had many thoughts on this but I decided to move on. Your final picture represents the innocence of youth before it evolves with the influences of society and the Media.

  14. A well written, poignant post and the comments have been just as respectful and insightful.

  15. I have to commend you first and foremost for the thoughtful insight of your post.

  16. To me, it is shocking that a country like the US, a country which the whole world (at least here) believes, stands for justice and fairness, and freedom, really does have all sorts of issues bordering on prejudice and racism, which infiltrate the fabric that the society is made of. I have tried to follow this very carefully and am shocked at the whole “stand your ground” law. What is that? As I am shocked at the liberal gun laws which seem to take the lives of innocents all the time. At the end of the day, only the universe knows what really took place there. Why did the teenage hit a grown man who had a loaded weapon? Why did a man who is not the law follow a teenager in his car?

    I laud you for blogging about this. These are issues that need to be aired and discussed. The photo is beautiful!

  17. I love reading whatever you have written, so please continue. I have very mixed feelings on this whole tragedy. Let me say up front I am a middle aged white woman.

    1st Trayvon was a teenager. Whether he had been in trouble before or not, he was still a teenager. Many teenagers get into trouble, black, white, and every color in between. I had one that was a trouble magnet. He was blond with blue eyes and yes he was constantly stopped by the police if he was walking anywhere. He is better now because he had the chance to grow up. I also work with teenagers and sometimes they all scare me. The ones of color less than the white ones. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps the ones of color are more laid back and quiet because they were taught not to bring attention to themselves. I don’t know, but if that is true that is very sad. I’m sorry there are still morons out there that they have to defend themselves from.

    2nd there were only two people who really know what happened. One is no longer here to tell his side, which no doubt would be different from the other. The way I see it, even if they both said the same exact thing, their lawyers would not allow it so the truth may never be known.

    3rd and final, as a middle aged white woman; if a violent crime ever happens to me and it is done by a person of any color I would be afraid of reporting it and being accused of being racist and profiling. Yes you read that correctly I would be more afraid of being accused of profiling then finding someone who attacked me. So you see some white people are afraid of accusations and some black people are afraid of accusations and that really is no way for us to live. (and I was accused many many years ago not because of violence, but because of empathy for a scared kindergarten student who I LET sit in the back of the bus with his older cousins. )

    None of us are born racist, it is something we are taught. There is not one of us who has disliked someone who is different (race, religion, sexual orientation) at some moment in our lives. It would be nice if we could agree on what and how to teach our future generations that we are all human, but we can’t even agree on that.

    Sorry so long winded, I am stepping down now. You are free to keep up your good work.

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