The death of Trayvon Martin has sparked an intense national discussion on race and justice like we have not seen in a long time. Throughout the United States this past month there have been deep and extensive conversations about racism, stereotypes, and Florida's "stand your ground" law. The Madison Times and our National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) writers have covered the case extensively.
Lost amidst all of the Trayvon Martin discussion has been the unfortunate death of Bo Morrison, a 20-year-old unarmed black youngster from Slinger, Wis., who was shot dead by white homeowner Adam Kind in the early hours of March 3. Morrison was on Kind's porch to avoid being caught for underage drinking when police broke up the party he had been attending at a friend's house up the street.
Kind has not been arrested — his killing of Morrison was deemed by the sheriff's office to be self-defense under the state's new “Castle Doctrine” law which allows homeowners facing imminent danger to their lives to protect themselves using deadly force if necessary. Morrison is thought to be the first person killed under Wisconsin’s “Castle Doctrine” law
Nothing disturbed me more about this case than learning that according to this doctrine, a man's unlocked porch is his “castle”. It bothered me because I've seen the exact scenario of Bo Morrison played out growing up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (a city more than 10 times bigger than the town of Slinger). I've seen youngsters do insane things to dodge the cops to avoid underage drinking arrests. Some of these crazy escapades that I witnessed did include pretty white Sheboygan North cheerleaders ducking into garages, sheds, parked cars, ditches, backyards, and allies. In one particular case, a pretty young cheerleader friend of mine hid on a porch that did not belong to the young lady’s parents or anybody she knew.
I do not believe that this young lady whom I knew since first grade should have been killed that night for her split-second decision to duck into an unlocked porch. It's hard to believe that there are people out there who believe that she deserved to die that night. Yet it’s very clear from the responses I have seen to the Bo Morrison case, that there are many Wisconsities who think that way.
Young people do dumb stuff all of the time. The dumb stuff becomes epecially dumb in a state of panic or at the spur of the moment. Be that as it may, they shouldn't be murdered for crouching on somebody's unlocked porch (unlocked because it is a porch).
I understand the need to protect your home and your family and there is nothing more serious than that. If somebody breaks into my actual home at night, all bets are off.
But Bo Morrison was on the man's porch, not inside the home. The only reason he got in was because the porch was unlocked (unlocked because, after all, it is a porch).
Flick the outside light on. Announce that the cops are on the way... Stay inside... It wasn't like this man was awoken out of the blue and startled by a man in his bedroom. The man had been monitoring the situation all night long and knew what was going on and knew that the cops were very nearby (because he had called the police to break up the party the youngters ended up running from).
I join my own neighbors on their enclosed porch from time to time, but I'm never fooled for a minute into thinking that I'm actually sitting in their living room. The multiple locks and the deadbolt between the porch and the actual house is the most obvious clue. Well, that and the fact that the porch is always unlocked because it is, after all, a porch.
Young college students about Bo Morrison's age come by my home and my neighbor's home on the near east side on a constant basis. I don't believe any of them think for a second that they can be shot as the go through the unlocked porch (unlocked because it is a porch) to get to my neighbor's actual house. But now, apparently, they can.
I don't want to believe that there is tremendous racism involved in the Bo Morrison case, but it is hard to ignore the pages and pages of anonymous Internet racism rained down upon Bo Morrison and his family and friends since the incident. Further, I'm also trying to imagine a scenario where a small-town man yells at some pretty white cheerleaders to keep the music down, calls the cops on said pretty white cheerleaders' little party, and then when one of them out of fear of an underage drinking ticket tries to hide from the cops on his unlocked porch (unlocked because it is a porch), he blows her away in cold blood as she crouches in the corner.... no questions asked.
I just don't see it happening.
Since Bo Morrison's death, Castle Doctrine fanatics and racists alike have dug through every little thing Bo did in his life to somehow justify his execution on that unlocked Slinger porch that night. Looking back, my pretty white Sheboygan North cheerleader friend hiding on that north side Sheboygan porch was no angel either — I could name a dozen things both publicly known and privately unknown that this young lady was responsible for if you forced me to make a list of her youthful missteps. Today, however, she is a beautiful woman, great community member, model citizen, and mother of four. She has become quite the woman.
We'll never know what Bo Morrison would have become.
A. David Dahmer is editor-in-chief of The Madison Times Weekly Newspaper.