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Tuesday July 29th 2014

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Outtakes 4/5/12

DÉJÀ VU The shooting of Trayvon Martin reminds me of the 2009 killing of Pensacola teen Victor Steen who was run over by Pensacola Police Officer Jerald Ard. The Pensacola homicide was captured on video taken from inside Ard’s patrol car. The video showed him chasing Steen who riding a bike, trying to shoot the black teenager with a Taser and suddenly turning and pinning him under his car.

It was a senseless tragedy that never should have happened. Bad judgment was used by Steen and Ard. Nothing good happens at 2 a.m. and nothing did that October night. Steen could have stopped and avoided the chase. Ard could have called off the chase, not fired his Taser and been more cautious in his driving. Neither did and a life was lost.

News goes through cycles. First, media embraces the victim and points how the horrors of the event. Then it moves on to blaming the victim and the act gets nearly forgotten.  It happened in 2009 and it’s happening now with Martin’s death.

Many of us wanted in 2009 to blame Steen for his death because we didn’t want to admit it could have happened to our children—that is if we lived in west Pensacola, if our teens didn’t have cars, if our children felt they needed a gun to protect themselves, or if they lived in a world that crushed their dreams long ago.

I lost sleep over Steen’s death. I saw it as my failure.  His death was only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Poverty, racial disparities and a failing education system were then, and are now, at the root of the problem. Our newspaper has written dozens of stories about the conditions in our poor neighborhoods. Yet our words have had little impact on our elected officials.

Instead the Pensacola City Council gets bogged down with council executive searches, marathon meetings and relocating an old helicopter. The Escambia County Commission finds jobs for its friends, and the School Board keeps telling itself what a good job it is doing. Our state lawmakers give us new gun laws every year. Black leaders jockey for personal power and prestige without doing anything.

Victor Steen’s death, like that of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, points to the problems that we have ignored for so long. Until our elected officials unite to address our poverty, racial disparities and failing public education, the probability of more teen deaths remains high.

And I will continue to lose sleep.