Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Treyvon Martin, Racial Profiling, and the Loser

It's October 18, 1996. The Complete and Total Loser is a freelance journalist, which means he's using those checks credit card companies send to pay his bills and he's several thousand dollars in debt. The only real work he gets is writing and copyediting for a small weekly publication that covers just one neighborhood in his city. An affluent neighborhood, but he's just making around $80 a week doing this.
It's a Friday. The Loser rents a small apartment on the top floor of a three-story rowhouse of a kind typical of his city.
The landlord is notoriously cheap and the Loser often performs minor maintenance chores around the building on his own. Today that chore is sweeping up the leaves that have fallen. Autumn has arrived early in the Northeast this year. The Loser is wearing old clothes. It's three o'clock in the afternoon. A dead time. The economy is booming and most are at work. The young are still at school. Though his block is large, there are no people on it and it's not a major thoroughfare so there is no traffic.
The Loser sees, approaching from the east, two men walking toward him. They are black, around 30 years old. He thinks of going inside his building and locking the door for a few minutes until they pass. He doesn't want to be seen as a coward or, worse, a racist, so he considers how he will do this. He'll look at his wristwatch, feign surprise, and hurry indoors. He doesn't do this, however. A child of the 60s and early 70s, he knows it's wrong to make assumptions about others based on race. Everyone is beautiful, in his own way. He continues sweeping as if there's nothing to be concerned about.
The men stop. The Loser turns to face them. The one who catches his eye first is the one pointing the gun at him.
He has a tabloid-sized newspaper draped over his arm in the manner of a wine steward, concealing much of the weapon to prevent anyone gazing out a window seeing what's happening.
"Give it up," he says.
The Loser, flummoxed, is mute. He raises his hands high in the air, which looks ridiculous, but he's doing this on purpose. He hopes a neighbor will see him and deduce what's happening and call the police. While the man with the gun points it at him, his cohort goes behind the Loser and rifles through his pockets, taking about $25 and his house keys.
"Where's your wallet at?" the gunman says.
 Best answer: I don't believe in them and I only carry small amounts of cash.
The Loser's answer: "It's locked up ... inside."
The gunman: "We're going inside."
The Loser is stupid, of course, but even he knows that the last thing you do is let an armed stranger take you in a building or a vehicle.
"I don't want to do that," the Loser says. No, not says. Whines.
"We're going inside," the gunman says, "or I'll pop you right here." He nods toward his gun.
The Loser has a malformed right leg and can't run, so he's often before this what he would do.
He calls on the little he learned in his freshman drama class many years ago.
"But ... I ... " The Loser swoons onto the brick sidewalk, as if he's had a heart attack, he hopes.
He lies there, eyes shut, and waits. He wonders if a bullet will be fired into his skull in the seconds following and what that would feel like. He hopes for the best. They already have the $25. Surely that's enough for a hit of whatever they want, and time is passing. Surely they're take off now.
They don't.
The gunman kicks the Loser in the back, not hard.
"C'mon buddy, get up. Get the fuck up."
The Loser sticks to his script and doesn't respond.
Rather than flee, the gunman grabs the Loser under his arms and begins pulling him up the three-step stoop. He's about the Loser's size but strong. Prison muscles. The second man is opening the door. The Loser focuses on being dead weight, which he heard protestors in the 60s did to make it harder for the police to carry them off. It's not working.
The gunman drops something in front of the Loser. The gun clatters to the sidewalk. The Loser knows little about guns, but he can see now that this gun isn't the small caliber handgun he'd thought it was but a pellet gun. The handle where the CO2 cartridge would go is empty.
Time to act.
The Lose struggles and shouts. What he shouts is what you should shout if this happens to you: "Call 911! Crime in progress!"
Not just "Help!" That's something anyone with a large grocery bag might yell at their child. Always give people a specific action to take.
Finally, the Loser's assailants realize that it's time to go. They take off, both heading east, and nearly running into a pedestrian. Within seconds windows open and neighbors are saying they've called the police who are asking for a description.
"Two African-American males!" the Loser relays. Later, he'll be surprised that he used this current and politically correct term.
A police car is there in a minute and they catch one of the men, the gunman. A tip for criminals: Don't rob people in broad daylight three blocks away from a police precinct headquarters. The Loser identifies the man because he's wearing a distinctive windbreaker: It has the logo of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, a grinning Indian. The pedestrian the robbers nearly ran into is in the car with the Loser identifies them too. He happens, the Loser learns later, to be a defense attorney who clerked with the Loser's lawyer brother fifteen years before this day.
The man still has the fake gun on him. A knife, too. The Loser knows what the two men wanted. They wanted to take his credit cards and party all weekend with them. What's the only way to ensure a crime victim doesn't cancel his credit cards? The Loser thinks he would have seen more of that knife if he'd gone inside with them.
These were people not wearing hoodies, which criminals wear to make identification more difficult.
The Loser's previous dwelling and the site of where he was robbed.

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