Cook: Shoot thy neighbor as thyself

Cook: Shoot thy neighbor as thyself

December 3rd, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

One October night, a man named Dale Bryant Farris looked out across his Estill Springs, Tenn., neighborhood and saw some teenagers rolling his neighbor's yard.

They were kids being kids. The yard belonged to their school principal, and they were tossing toilet paper all over his trees.

So, according to police, Farris, 65, did what anyone might do in 21st century America.

He grabbed his shotgun, walked outside and shot one of the boys.

Three weeks later, on a November afternoon, a man named Fred Steven Youngblood heard some noises outside his run-down Ringgold home. Two teenagers were looking to steal some scrap metal and thought Youngblood's old house was empty.

It wasn't.

Youngblood, 69, grabbed his pistol and yelled at them. Then, as anyone may do in 21st century America, Youngblood shot at them, killing one of the teenagers.

The boy was 17 years old.

Fifteen days later, on the day before Thanksgiving, a man named Joe Hendrix woke up in the dead of night hearing noises outside his fiancee's home in Walker County, Ga.

The noises were coming from a church-going, family man who lived nearby named Ronald Westbrook. He was 72. He'd been wandering through the night for nearly four hours. His two dogs were with him. The weather was below freezing. He was dressed in a thin coat and straw hat.

Westbrook had advanced Alzheimer's disease and was lost.

"This one house at the end of the cul-de-sac had a porch light on," the Walker County sheriff said at a news conference. "I tend to think [Westbrook] was drawn to that light."

Inside the house, Hendrix called 911. After nearly 10 minutes of waiting on the police, Hendrix grabbed his handgun and walked outside. When Westbrook didn't leave, Hendrix did what anyone may do in 21st-century America.

He shot Westbrook in the chest and killed him.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself," Christ once said.

Here in the Stand-Your-Ground South, we have lost our way, no longer able to distinguish one another as either enemy or neighbor. As if afflicted by a cultural Alzheimer's, we have forgotten so much, thus cursed to stumble through the dark night, firing bullets at one another.

We shoot kids pranking their principal. We shoot teenagers trying to steal scraps from our yard. We shoot an old man as he walks the neighborhood at night.

Like a Dr. Seuss book, we arm ourselves in outlandish ways that don't match the reality before us. We want guns in our car. We want guns in the bar. We'll arm our teachers. We'll arm our preachers.

Big Media and the NRA besiege us with false narratives that encourage us -- try it, try it, you'll see -- to turn away from the truth of things, which is that we are brothers and sisters of one another, bound together in unfathomable ways.

Or do you even believe that anymore?

The future of our 21st century America will be based on competing narratives, one of which tells us that we are strangers to each another, bloodthirsty, just a nudge away from violence.

The other narrative -- the property of religion, myth and science -- tells us that we are creatures hardwired for cooperation and community. We are not natural enemies. We are not meant to shoot our neighbors.

Yes, there is war, rape, burglary and violence. But if that was our dominant way of life, our time on this planet would have ended long ago.

And yes, we have every right to protect ourselves. But these Stand Your Ground laws give more protection to the shooter than the person shot. The man who killed the 72-year-old Westbrook? Police let him drive away, free as a bird.

Why is such a standard never applied to urban crime? When black men shoot at other black men in the city, they're practicing their own version of Stand Your Ground self-defense. Why does this law never apply to them?

Youngblood (the man who killed the teenager in his yard) has not been charged, as police await medical records that should tell us whether the boy was running toward, or away from, Youngblood.

Does it even matter?

No one shoots another and goes undamaged. Witnesses say Youngblood and Hendrix are shaken up about what happened. It's like blowback, some retort that shrapnels all kinds of invisible wounds into our interior world.

Why? Because what you do unto your neighbor -- either love or shoot them -- you do unto yourself.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.