Yesterday, President Obama walked into the White House press room and made his remarks about the Trayvon Martin matter. One thing he said that has raised some eyebrows is that he could have been Trayvon Martin some 35 years ago. Perhaps, he has made a good point, but there are two sides to that point. I would like to relate two anecdotal incidents that illustrate my point.
It was approximately 35 years ago that I was a DEA agent stationed in Los Angeles. I happened to be at my mother's apartment in West LA for dinner one night. Suddenly, we heard the sound of a car horn blaring and a woman screaming for help. I looked out the window and saw that there was some sort of assault taking place in a car below the balcony. Grabbing my badge and shoving my service revolver down my waistband, I ran down to investigate. When I got to the car, I saw that a young man was inside the car beating on a young woman. Yes they were both black. I may have told this story on these pages before and have told it to an occasional friend without indicating their race, but here and now it becomes relevant to the discussion.
The man was in a fury as he was hitting his girlfriend. I reached into the car and dragged him out putting my badge in his face as I tried to calm him down. I identified myself only as "police" (technically true). Unfortunately, the man was in no mood to be calmed down, and at one point, leaped back into the car and began pummeling his girlfriend again, at which point, I again pulled him off of her and out of the car.
At some point, a neighbor stuck her head out of her apartment to see what the commotion was about. I flashed my badge and asked her to call for the police. Whether she did or not, I don't know because it seemed like an eternity was passing, no police were arriving, and the guy was not calming down. I figured he might haul off and slug me at any time. (I had not drawn my gun, but I was thinking about when I might have to do so.) Another neighbor looked outside and I asked her to call 9-11 and say, "officer needs assistance". That did the trick because within two minutes, I got about 5 squad cars and a helicopter. At that point, the LAPD took over and resolved the situation (without arrest). Before leaving, the young lady came over and thanked me.
I look back on that night and think: What might have happened if that young man in a rage had attacked me, knocked me to the ground, got on top and begun slamming my head into the concrete? What if he had gone after my gun? What if I had shot and killed him in defense? Could I have been George Zimmerman and had to go through what he has gone through?
There was another incident involving one of my DEA colleagues about 35 years ago. Bill was a DEA agent stationed in LA who was in Las Vegas on vacation. One night, he was driving down the strip and was stopped at a light. In front of him were two outlaw bikers and a taxi between Bill and the bikers. The light turned green, but the bikers were distracted and sat there. The taxi driver honked his horn at them, at which point, they dismounted, walked back to the cab, dragged the driver out of the cab and over to the sidewalk where they began beating him severely. At one point, one of the bikers pulled some kind of signpost out of the ground and began striking the fallen taxi driver with it. Meanwhile, Bill got out of his car, went to the trunk and got his weapon. He identified himself and ordered them to stop. At this point, I should mention that the bikers were white and Bill was black. One of the bikers turned to Bill, called him the n-word and came at him with the signpost threatening him. When the guy got too close, Bill shot him between the legs. The incident was over and the two bikers went to jail. Bill was a hero in Las Vegas. He had probably saved the cabbie's life.
Are there any parallels here to the Martin/Zimmerman case? There are some similarities, and there are some differences. No need to examine them here, since the Martin/Zimmerman matter has already been scrutinized fully. My only point here is to point out that a lot of people could have been Trayvon Martin, and a lot of people could have been George Zimmerman 35 years ago, 10 years ago, last year, or next week.
Maybe President Obama didn't consider that yesterday.