Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shooting in Black and White

He died in his garage.

Police reportedly shot him six times in the chest.

He was holding a handgun when the cops found him.  They were responding to a burglary alarm after midnight in a neighborhood near some high-crime apartment complexes where many blacks live.

The police say they felt threatened by the man, so they shot in self-defense.

They killed a 72-year-old white, wealthy, small-business owner, in his rambling two-story home on a golf course.  Hedges manicured into precise shapes and a meticulously-groomed lawn gracing his brick house bespeak the services of a well-paid landscaping crew.  His neighborhood of large, custom-built homes is an oasis of luxury in a section of east Fort Worth noted more for the blighted apartment complexes surrounding it.  Together, the neighborhood is called Woodhaven, but it probably holds the starkest contrasts of any planned development in the city.

Conceived as Cowtown's answer to luxury gated communities sprouting all over its suburbs, Woodhaven was built in the 1980's among gently-rolling hills and towering native trees.  Originally, the neighborhood was to have been almost completely executive homes, but when the savings and loan crisis hit Texas in the mid-80's, private money dried up fast.  Scrambling to cover their costs for developing the infrasctucture for their project, developers turned to some newly-created federal resources for multifamily residential units.  Legend has it that folks who'd already purchased the neighborhood's big homes protested, since apartments aren't the type of neighbors than help preserve property values.  But they were told that these apartments would command high rents, eliminating the likelihood that riff-raff would overrun the place.

And maybe that's what happened right after the complexes were constructed.  But it didn't take long before the owners of those complexes found another gravy train from the government:  Section 8 housing vouchers.  At about the time the first generation of renters were moving out, the federal government was looking to relocate thousands of mostly minority welfare recipients who were living in public housing.  And Woodhaven's apartments, built quickly to capitalize on those earlier government subsidies, were rapidly becoming dilapidated, meaning they couldn't command market rates.  Granted, the reason the federal government wanted to move residents out of public housing was because our nation's public housing stock had already succumbed to its own bad construction and abusive tenants.  But Woodhaven was still in better shape than those older, cinder-block structures built when public housing was supposed to be temporary housing, not the housing of choice for people caught in generational poverty.

So it came to be that those beautiful homes on large, well-groomed lots around Woodhaven Country Club have to co-exist with what today, for all practical purposes, is a tarted-up slum.  There are still some attractive benefits to living in the neighborhood's single-family homes, such as the area's scenic topography, unique to Texas'  normal flatness, and its proximity to downtown Fort Worth and some of the region's important freeways.  You also get a lot more house for your money in Woodhaven than you would in whiter, less ethnically-mixed parts of town.  Indeed, while the apartments are almost exclusively full of minority residents, Woodhaven's single-family homes boast an eclectic mix of races, even if most of the homeowners are white.  I know of one man, an evangelical who has been wildly successful with his own company, who could afford to live in many more prestigious neighorhoods, but feels comfortable living in Woodhaven because he's Hispanic.  That, plus he knows a good value when he sees it.  His home dwarfs the size of others in Dallas' fashionable Park Cities likely costing a third more.

Indeed, the best parts of Woodhaven might be a good value, but it's still no inner-city ghetto.  There are no abandoned, boarded-up houses.  Many of the storefronts along its commercial streets are vacant, but the same can be said for many strip-shopping-centers in aging neighborhoods across north Texas, as bricks-and-mortar retailing continues to struggle against over-building and Internet sales.  If a homeowner had been shot in, say, Fort Worth's Stop 6 neighborhood, or Poly neighborhood, or along Rosedale Street, it likely wouldn't have made the news.

And if it did, most of us whites wouldn't have paid much attention.  Another black man killed.  Another Hispanic man killed.  By the cops.  In his own garage, poor guy.  And when the black or Hispanic wife would get on TV and blame the cops for being trigger-happy, we'd just chuckle, as if to say, "yeah... right."

If the cops shot you in those 'hoods, they had some reason.  They were provoked.  When the victim is black or Hispanic, it is so easy to assume that.

But this guy was white.  Living in a nice, big house on a golf course.  He actually died in his garage, which doesn't even face the street, but the golf course.  Ostensibly, the cops were looking for a prowler who might have tried breaking into a house on the same street.  But what were they doing in the back of this guy's house, down the block from where the alarm had sounded?

His widow says that they heard the alarm going off, and since parts of Woodhaven are no innocent paradise, her husband got up to see what was going on.  He had a gun, which, considering the type of people who live in the apartments around his home, isn't being unreasonable.  Since his garage doesn't face the street, he likely wouldn't have seen the police cars parked out front.  And since he was apparently in his garage, he likely was surprised to see two figured clad in black - Fort Worth's police uniforms are black - come around the corner.  He was trapped in his own garage, if these two figures meant any harm.  And his wife was alone inside.

It all makes sense to us whites that the media would be all over this story, and that the general public would be right alongside his widow, demanding answers from the cops as to why her husband was killed in his own garage while their neighbor's alarm was what they were supposed to have been investigating.  A caregiver staying in the neighbor's house reports not being aware of any attempted break-in, and it's even possible that the caregiver themself accidentally tripped the alarm, since they likely were relatively unfamiliar with the house.  But no cops ever knocked on the front door to see what was going on.  Instead, they were poking around a neighbor's back yard.

If this wasn't an affluent block with residents far richer - and whiter - than the folks who live in the subsidized apartments nearby, would this be the story it's become here in north Texas?

How much faster do you think this widow will receive answers from the cops than, perhaps, the black and Hispanic widows who've gone through similar experiences in the past?

Or, like the cops apparently were, am I simply over-reacting?

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