Each week, I have to provide commentary on some issue affecting our area.
That's usually a breeze because Crestview is a growing community with plenty to report on. Just last week, the Economic Development Council's vice president said the downtown area's development potential is virtually limitless. In today's edition, we learn about North Okaloosa Medical Center's new Wound Healing Center and the hope that hyperbaric chambers bring. In other health news, there are statewide efforts to curb smokeless tobacco use, and Crestview High School and Laurel Hill School students, among others, are taking leadership roles to spread the word.
There's a lot of good going on. But sometimes, there's a topic that needs to be written about.
This week (and, I know, a time or two in the past year), that topic is the need for community. It needs reiterating, especially in light of recent events.
Saturday, a Jacksonville jury found Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old, guilty for the attempted murders of three teens in a car with Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was fatally shot in 2012 during an encounter at a gas station, according to the Panama City News Herald.
Dunn confronted the teens after complaining about loud music coming from their SUV's speakers. Dunn says he saw the barrel of a gun after Davis allegedly threatened him; prosecutors say Dunn shot 10 bullets at the SUV.
Only Dunn and the teens know what really happened, but the facts following the encounter won't be ignored. Dunn did leave the gas station after he shot the firearm. He did not call the police. He did walk his dog and order a pizza. He did not tell his fiancee he saw a weapon sticking out of the SUV.
And no gun was found.
For a number of people, the case had shades of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and debates centered on whether the spirit of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was a factor.
After the jury reached a verdict, Facebook friends weighed in. One of my fellow Spring Hill College alumni, who is black, said, "So, for the sake and safety or our children, (John) and I have decided that we don't move to Florida."
Another friend who lives in the Sunshine State, also black, said, "I wish I didn't live here."
Another, also black, said, "What do I tell my boys as they grow into men?"
Others poured on. That often happens after senseless deaths occur. I believe it's a human's way of controlling an otherwise uncontrollable situation. This column might fit that bill, too. But in the interest of helping, I'll still suggest that people join multicultural organizations, occasionally immerse themselves in other environments, volunteer somewhere to mix with different age groups and understand others from diverse backgrounds.
It's easy to fear what we don't know, and to turn the unknown into a bogeyman. But gigantic, foreboding shadows on the wall could come from nothing but a small sock puppet.
Similarly, a camera tripod could look remarkably like a gun.
This incident matters because we're all Floridians, so we all should make it a point to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And maybe take a different view.
Soapbox alert, but this needs to be said: How long does someone spend at a gas station? A few minutes? So who cares what kind of music is playing? Why can't someone hear loud music — whether it's rap, classical, Christian or otherwise — and maybe just shake his or her head and think, like Louis Armstrong, "what a wonderful world"?
I don't want to pass judgment, but based on the facts from this case, a teenager would still be alive if no confrontation occurred.
It's easy, and futile, to play the "what if" game, but again, this case sort of hinges on that confrontation, a clash over cultural differences. Thinking "What awful music," but keeping that hidden, while expressing a tip of the hat to the teens likely would have garnered a different response.
The same could be said if a 48-year-old Arkansas man hadn't allegedly shot at a group of teenagers egging his car at 1 a.m. this past weekend. The teens had no weapons; they were committing criminal mischief, but in their minds, were playing a prank, according to the New York Daily News. And a 15-year-old girl died in that incident.
Really? You see teenagers messing with your car, not threatening you, and your first response is to shoot? Really?
The point is, let's not sweat the small stuff.
To help, let's build community. One way is to not pass someone on the sidewalk without offering a smile. And let's not use demeaning terms like "wingnut" and "loon" to describe people with different politics. They just disagree. It's not the end of the world. And, you know what? Let's not look for the worst in people.
Over the weekend, I was reading the News Bulletin's Facebook page and was dismayed to see one reader's comment. In the first paragraph, she criticized a city council's proposed ordinance; no problem there, as we appreciate civil disagreements. But in the second paragraph, she suggested that such an ordinance would cause residents to revolt, and even invoked a notorious criminal's name and referred to serious crimes that they "might" mimick. It was unnecessary to make her point, so I deleted that troublemaking comment.
The sad thing, though, is that she probably thought there was nothing wrong with the comment. She might have even thought she was helping; meanwhile, she was unintentionally providing an idea or frame of reference for a less stable individual.
One of my Facebook friends posted a telling meme titled, "How to start an argument online." There are two steps: First, express an opinion. Second, wait.
That's what it's come to, folks. And since we're communicating with people on a screen, almost like we're watching television or a movie, we tend to treat the conversation as entertainment. Some people are so entrenched in this culture that they see things that aren't there.
Once, someone took me to task over what I "really meant" upon saying that data "indicated" something. Well, journalists (careful ones, anyway) tend to report news in cautious terms without making something sound like a bonafide fact if they didn't witness it themselves. So when I say something like that, there's no agenda; it's just a way to make it clear that I'm reporting and am not the expert. In other words, just doing my job.
All of these stories of senseless deaths, these indications of community divisions and reading into things that aren't there, factor into why we're changing our news focus and tone, and increasingly softening the Opinion page while allowing civil, passionate debate.
This is a community newspaper, we are all neighbors, regardless of age, race, creed, socioeconomic status, office or any other characteristic, and we will not allow vitriol.
We will report the news, and we will not sugarcoat it if a jury finds someone, especially a public official, guilty. However, while we will not be thought police, we will not provide a platform for language that introduces demeaning or threatening language toward anyone.
Bank on that.