Derek Gentile: Trayvon could be any kid in Anytown, U.S.A.


PITTSFIELD -- I'm tired of talking about race when it comes to the Trayvon Martin case.

So it's out. No more from this corner, OK?

That said, let's take a look at what we're talking about now.

We got this kid, 17 years old, 5-11, 158 pounds, a tall, skinny drink of water. He's walking around in a neighborhood where he doesn't seem to be known.

An adult, the member of the local neighborhood watch, spots him. The kid looks a little odd: Hoodie, jeans, slumping around on the street. Clearly not someone who lives there.

The adult calls the police. The police dispatcher tells him to stop following the kid. The cops will take care of this.

But the adult says, "Nah, I'm not going to let this one get away" or words to that effect. Follows the kid in his car.

The adult is armed. The kid clearly isn't. A confrontation ensues. Adult pulls out his piece, shoots the kid.

That about sums it up.

Trouble is, without a racial motive, you've got a guy shooting a 17-year-old kid because he doesn't like his looks.

And don't give me this self-defense stuff. The kid's destination was his father's girlfriend's house. The adult's destination was clearly the kid.

I have to say, it sounds worse when you factor out race. Why? Because now it's anyone's son, grandson, nephew, little brother. And it could be anywhere, even in Berkshire County.

It could be some 17-year-old walking down Crandall Street in Adams. Or some teenager walking up Castle Hill Avenue in Great Barrington. Some skinny, odd-looking young dude walking alone on Fairview Street in Lee. Some high school kid trying to look tough walking along Williams Street in Pittsfield.

And wherever they are, they get shot on one of those streets by somebody who lives there. A person whom the neighbors say was a nice guy, as far as we knew. Didn't know he carried a gun. Wonder why he didn't call the police?

I think that's the basis of the frustration voiced by some of the people who have objected to George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. They have put themselves in the place of Trayvon Martin's parents.

A guy shoots their son because he doesn't seem to fit in with the neighborhood. That wasn't a crime when I was growing up. When I heard about all this, I didn't see myself as a parent or uncle or big brother; I put myself in Martin's place.

I didn't wear a hoodie often growing up, but there were a lot of times when I felt I was a stranger in a strange land. I don't think that's a particularly unique situation. I think a lot of kids growing up in small towns feel that way. But it's no reason to get shot.

I wonder what would have happened if Zimmerman had listened to that dispatcher? I'll bet he wonders, too. There wouldn't have been a fatal shooting, and there wouldn't have been a trial and there wouldn't be all this outrage and anger and demonstrations.

I think, in a strictly legal sense, the jury probably acted correctly. My understanding is that self-defense, as it seems to be legally construed in Florida, allows for the use of deadly force -- even if the other person doesn't have it. That sounds illogical, but I think it's a function of legislators trying way too hard to draft laws that will protect citizens.

I talked to some gun owners I know in Berkshire County and none of them could envision a situation where they would follow and shoot an unarmed kid during a struggle. Obviously, I didn't talk to every gun owner in the Berkshires. And obviously, the guys I know who have guns are pretty responsible people.

So maybe there are some folks out there who think this whole thing was OK. I doubt very much that reading this is going to change their minds. But I knew that. The great philosopher, Frank Zappa, once said, "People will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people's minds." Frank knew his stuff.

Eagle staff writer Derek Gentile can be reached at or (413) 496-6251


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