Monday, April 2, 2012

Of fear, stereotypes, guns, SUVs, and bike paths. The selling of fear in America

  In a recent discussion on what is needed to be a good "cycling city", a commenter left this comment in his message on Andy Cline's web site: "...The second is a police force and court system that promptly arrests and jails dangerous car drivers for lengthy prison terms..."

I can't help but wonder if some cyclists are falling victim to what I will call the George Zimmerman syndrome. Sure, there are a few dangerous drivers out there and a fair number of clueless ones. But not all drivers are dangerous stereotypes deserving of three squares and a room in the Greybar Hotel. Not all, indeed very few, must be treated with fear. We don't need to build a wall (or even a curb) between us and them. Of course, drivers have been taught to fear each other as well. That's what sells 6,000 lb SUVs.

I think Mr. Trayvon Martin was shot because we have become a nation that likes to simplify things down to black and white, danger and safety. Left vs. Right. Right vs. Wrong. Good vs. Evil.  Stand Your Ground was presumably not written so individuals could pursue and shadow the stereotype of a lawless black youth and then shoot the real flesh and blood black man during a senseless confrontation. Of course since Mr. Zimmerman was shadowing and confronting a stereotype, he undoubtedly felt endangered and shot a stereotype, albeit a flesh and blood one. I suspect that since Trayvon Martin was being confronted by the stereotype of a while/Latino man as well as the real one, he likewise felt threatened and reacted accordingly. The rest was almost predictable. Frankly, if someone trailed me in their truck and then jumped out and confronted me, I would feel pretty damned threatened. Perhaps we should all carry sidearms, shoot first, and ask questions later. That, after all, is the lesson this incident will teach all young black men. Collateral damage? Ah, who cares. This is 2012 America.

Stand Your Ground is not flawed because it tries to provide individuals protection from crime. Actually, I've long had a problem with the presumption of retreat. Retreat can make you dead if you are not careful. The law is flawed because it is being brandished by those who are afraid of each other; its a license to panic first and worry about the outcome later. Although Trayvon Martin was the obvious victim here, Mr. Zimmerman, when he finally gets his day in court, will undoubtedly claim victimhood too.

A victim of his own fears and stereotypes, I would add. I'm sure more than a few bicycling advocates are just as much a victim of theirs. Let's keep our fears in perspective.


Steve A said...

In my experience, abusive motorists are rare enough that I can count my experiences with same on my fingers - even using separate fingers to count different episodes with the same perp. Over tens of thousands of miles. Come to think of it, none of those incidents were with a SUV.

On the other hand, I'm not an advocate so I'm not qualified to sell fear as a way to get people to ride bikes...

Steve A said...

Did I forget to mention that cycling is fun and safe? Well, consider it said.