Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer. (AP Photo/HO, Martin Family Photos.)
On the face of it, the fates that befell 22-year-old Rodrigo Diaz and 7-year-old Wilson Reyes may seem unrelated. A Bronx elementary school student, Reyes was handcuffed and, according to his family, interrogated by police for up to ten hours, because of a playground scuffle over five dollars. Diaz, meanwhile, was shot and killed when he mistakenly pulled into the driveway of Phillip Sailors, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran, in Lilburn, Georgia.
But they’re connected. Let me explain how. David E. Diaz-Valencia, Diaz’s brother, told NBC Latino, “We don’t think it’s about racism. Maybe the guy was angry, trying to protect his own property.” Sailors’s attorney, Michael Puglise, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this was “not a question of color, not a question of race, this is a question of a tragic event dictated by fear.” But fear of whom? With due respect to Diaz-Valencia’s optimism, I find it almost impossible for to think up a scenario in which a car full of white youth pulls into the wrong driveway, the owner of the home fires a warning shot before confronting them, as Sailors did, and then the driver of the vehicle is shot in the head as he’s backing the car out and attempting to apologize, as was the case with Diaz. Because in our American imagination, the only time a group of young white people pose a threat that requires a violent response is when they’re occupying Wall Street. The victims in these cases of “mistaken” identity always come up as people of color.
And maybe Sailors would have done the same if they were white. He may have just been that angry at any trespasser. There isn’t really a way for us to be sure. What we do know that happened is a group of young Latinos pulled into the wrong driveway, and a man shot one of them because he was afraid they might be gang members trying to rob him. Now I ask, how does that man come to such a conclusion so quickly?