|Site of my high-speed chase|
(Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
When I was about seventeen, my friend and I parked, unknowingly, in front of a vacant house. We were just sitting in the seats of my car, talking, because it wasn't yet curfew time. A guy in a pick-up truck drove by us slowly, went around the block, and drove by us again.
At that point, we thought he thought we were making out and was coming back for another look. But when we started up the car to drive around the corner to my friend's house, the guy pulled a U-turn and started to follow us. We didn't want him to follow us to my friend's house, so we continued past and went to a main street. We picked up speed. He picked up speed.
I then got into the only high-speed chase in my life, because we didn't know who this guy was or why the hell he was following us, and it scared the shit out of us. I ran red lights. I got on the freeway and pushed my grandmother's tan 1980 Honda Civic to its limit of 70 mph. The pick-up was practically on my bumper.
Eventually, a cop pulled us both over. The guy in the pick-up turned out to be someone who had babysat my friend when my friend was a preschooler. The guy said, sheepishly, "I know this kid. He's OK." He had assumed we were planning to break into the vacant house and, when we started to drive away, it only proved to him that we must be guilty of something. The cop chewed us both out. To the guy, he said, "Next time, let us handle this." He asked me, "Why did you run?" I said, "We were SCARED." The cop let us go.
If we hadn't been an Asian-looking girl and an Irish-white boy, how might this have gone down differently?
I'm writing this post after thinking about Amy Davidson's question, "What Should Trayvon Martin Have Done?" And I realized, well, I know what I did do. And in other circumstances, in another body, I might have been shot to death.
Vigilantes are, frankly, terrifying: Who is this person? Why are they after me? In the vigilante's mind, you are someone suspicious. In your own mind, you are going about your own innocent business when some stranger starts to stalk you. A regular person would call the police and leave it at that. It's beyond the bounds of societal norms for a person to take the law into his own hands. It's one thing, after all, to stop a rape or a robbery in progress. It's another to target someone who isn't actually committing a crime.
Do you remember being seventeen? I remember being completely absorbed in a world of music, movies, schoolwork, peer hierarchies, and dating. When I thought about adults at all, it was the daily injustices my dad subjected me to: curfews, housework, family obligations, permissions denied. Adults occupied a realm of power that I hadn't experienced yet and that had authority over me. At seventeen, I dreamed of adult autonomy without understanding the reality. I was still living in my dad's house. I was closer to the age of being told to beware of strange adults than to being a true adult, on my own.
The way I reacted to being followed by a pick-up was stupid—I could have gotten into a car wreck, or caused a car wreck. If we had gone to my friend's house, gotten out of the car, and involved his dad, we would have cleared up the misunderstanding. And yet, if the man in the pick-up hadn't been a neighbor, but someone intent on harming us, then getting out of the car might have been the stupid decision. But until you know both sides of the story, you can't know which decision is the right one, if a right one even exists.
I'm sure Trayvon was afraid for his life when Zimmerman confronted him. How many of us, followed and then approached in the dark by a large man, would have fought for our lives in that moment?
If the racism of this case can be distilled to a single moment, it's the moment when you have a black kid and a non-black man facing each other, neither sure of what the other is up to. That the jurors and many, many other people identify solely with Zimmerman at that moment tells you everything you need to know about racism in this case. And it's the gap between those with Zimmerman's perspective and those with Trayvon's that seems unbridgeable.