Another Trayvon in Milwaukee
reports on the killing of 13-year-old Darius Simmons--and what it says about the grip of racist violence in the U.S.
SHOT TO death while taking in his family's trash cans.
The circumstances surrounding the murder of 13-year-old Darius Simmons don't appear to be in question. On May 30, the Black Milwaukee teenager became another victim of racism in the U.S.
Darius and his family had lived in their home only a month before the teenager was fatally shot by his next-door neighbor, 75-year-old John Spooner. According to reports, Darius' mother, Patricia Larry, had moved because she wanted her son to grow up in a safer neighborhood. According to family members, Darius was a funny, loving kid who rode his bike more than seven miles to school each day.
On May 30, Darius was home sick from school when he went outside to retrieve the family's garbage cans from in front of their house. There, he was confronted by Spooner, who apparently believed Darius had been involved in a break-in of his home earlier in the week, during which several guns were stolen. According to his mother, Darius was in school when the break-in occurred.
Spooner confronted the teen, telling him he "wanted his shotguns back," according to Darius' mother, who watched the argument unfold. Spooner then pulled out a handgun and shot Darius twice--even as the teen held up his arms and tried to run away. When the police arrived on the scene, Spooner allegedly admitted, "Yeah, I shot him."
Spooner has since been charged with first-degree homicide and is being held on $300,000 bond. Just an hour before he killed Darius, Spooner ate breakfast with local Alderman Bob Donovan, where he talked about the break-in.
Donovan told WISN reporter Marianne Lyles, "I asked [Spooner], 'Did you call the police?' He said, 'Yeah,' but for whatever reason, seemed a little frustrated with that investigation. I don't know the details of it."
Donovan added, "He did say that 'maybe there are other ways of dealing with this'"--suggesting the shooting may have been premeditated.
Compounding the tragedy, Patricia Larry says that she was detained for questioning in a squad car for two hours after the shooting and was unable to go the hospital to be with her son as he was dying.
And during the investigation of the crime, police reportedly decided to search Darius' home--and arrested his older brother for truancy tickets.
Even so, Betty McCuiston, Darius' aunt, told reporters at a June 2 press conference, "We're more...angry that people can walk around with guns and feel that they can take the law into their own hands...No mother should have to sit in a hospital and wait for the doctor to come out and say that she's sorry, but he did not make it."
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THE PARALLELS to the case of Trayvon Martin--an unarmed Black teen gunned down by a self-styled vigilante in Florida--are obvious.
But Wisconsin residents are also pointing out the similarities between Darius' murder and that of Bo Morrison--a 20-year-old Black man from Slinger, Wis., who was shot dead by white homeowner Adam Kind in the early hours of March 3.
Bo, who had been at a party nearby, was standing on Kind's porch to avoid being caught for underage drinking after police broke up the party--when Kind shot him. Kind was never arrested for the murder, despite the fact that Bo was carrying no weapon and posed no threat. Kind stated that he was in fear for his life because Bo--despite having his hands raised--supposedly took a step toward him.
Authorities declined to prosecute Kind, deeming the killing of Bo Morrison to be justified under Wisconsin's 2011 "Castle Doctrine" law. The law, drafted by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, allows homeowners to "defend" themselves with deadly force without a duty to retreat if they believe they are in imminent danger in their own homes.
The legacy of racism in Milwaukee is also undoubtedly a factor in Darius Simmons' death. The city consistently ranks as one of the most segregated in the U.S.. And as the Milwaukee Drum reported in 2010:
According to the most recent American Community Survey, metro Milwaukee has the second-worst Black/white household income ratio amongst the country's 50 largest metro areas. The median white household earns $79,145 while the median Black household earns $33,273. This amounts to Black households earning 42 cents on the white dollar.
Black residents are approximately twice as likely as whites to not have a high school diploma, according to the Drum, and the city has the largest disparity between Black and white unemployment of major U.S. urban areas. According to a 2010 Center for Economic Development report by Marc Levine:
No metro area has witnessed more precipitous erosion in the labor market for Black males over the past 40 years than has Milwaukee. Once a region posting Black male employment rates above the national average, by the turn of the 20th century, Milwaukee's Black male employment rate had plummeted to among the lowest in the country...
The 2010 data, however, revealed a new nadir for Black male employment in Milwaukee. Only 44.7 percent of the metro area's working-age Black males (those between the ages of 16-64) were employed in 2010, the lowest rate ever recorded for Black males in Milwaukee, and a substantial decline from 52.9 percent in 2008, the start of the Great Recession.
A 2008 study carried out in both Milwaukee and New York City found that white applicants with a felony drug conviction were more likely to be called back for a job than Black applicants with no criminal record.
Such widespread, persistent racism--a society in which young Black men are seen as inherently criminal and their lives as expendable--helped kill Darius Simmons. As SocialistWorker.org contributor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said about the Trayvon Martin case at an April panel discussion in Chicago:
George Zimmerman, who has finally been arrested, may have pulled the trigger, but 250 years of legalized, racially-based slavery, 100 years of legalized discrimination after slavery ended under a system called Jim Crow, and 40 years of institutionalized racism in a so-called "color-blind" society is what provided the gun and cocked it in the first place.
The same is true of John Spooner--who saw Darius Simmons not as a child, but as a criminal whose life was expendable.