Fridays Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South
Fear Just Below the Surface
Friday afternoon I was driving back to work after lunch when I heard on the radio that the defendants of the Martin Lee Anderson case were all found innocent. Anderson was a 14 year old prisoner in one of the State of Florida's juvenile boot camps. On his first day there, the young man died. The Tallahassee Democrat Newspaper described the verdict this way:
On the way back to work I had to stop at the paint store to pick up four gallons of paint for this weekend's painting of the outside of my new gallery. The guys at the store were talking about the verdict and how they were worried about what the black community's response would be.
After the paint store there was one more stop at the lumber company, and it was the same there. They talked about how in the past, when the black community got upset, their windows had all been broken out, the building was set on fire, and one man was killed. I don't know when this happened, but to hear them talk about it, you would think it was last week.
For the rest of the afternoon, the trial and the fact that there was an all white jury were in every conversation I came upon. People would tell me that I wasn't from down here, and that things could and have gotten out of hand in no time at all. These were all white people that I was talking to, and now that I think about it, there just weren't any African Americans around. The paint store is in a very black part of town as is the lumber company.
Just a few blocks away, at the State Capitol I understand there was a big demonstration, and get this, if you go to the local newspaper web page, http://tallahassee.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage, they have a slide show of that protest, and if you see a nice picture of yourself or a friend, you can click on it and buy a copy of that photo. I guess newspapers have to make a buck whenever they can.
So, what did I learn? Well, for sure, white people down here worry about what the black population will do if they feel slighted. To me, there is no doubt that the boot-camp guards killed that boy, and that was the feeling of every white person that I talked to. If you watch that video of how the guards handled Martin Lee Anderson, I bet you will feel the same way. The thing that upset these local people though, at least the thing they voiced, was that it was an all white jury, and it only took 45 minutes to come up with a verdict. It was almost like having that verdict come down like it did was not a surprise at all, but the problem was not the unjust verdict, but what might happen because of it.
White people don't live in fear of the black population here in Tallahassee, but they do stay extra alert whenever something racial makes the news. They don't plan on riots, but they do have a history of memories of things that have happened in the past all over the South. I know tonight many white people will drive a different route home, and they might just stay home, at least until they see what is what. Some people might say these people are over reacting. Many will say these people are just being prudent.
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