When 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot in 2004 in his own neighborhood, on the rooftop of a Brooklyn apartment building, the architecture community did not seem to notice. The police officer who shot the unarmed teenager said it was an accident, and a Brooklyn jury decided not to indict the officer for manslaughter. The public discussed and debated this tragedy in terms of police brutality, racism and gun violence. Then, even more tragically, nothing changed.
With the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, the worlds of architecture and urbanism cannot afford to hear no evil/see no evil this time. You may think you’ve heard enough about Trayvon Martin, but this tragedy is not a “hot topic.” It is a lever in American history, like the death of Emmett Till — a pivotal moment when irreconcilable narratives of this country collide.
Some of the architecture blogsites have started to address this, notably in terms of looking at sociological research outlining the downsides of gated communities. In the hope of encouraging further research and discussion, I have put together a few topics that aspire towards a spatial understanding of the implications of the Trayvon Martin killing. Whether as a professional master-planner or home-owner building a backyard fence or a city-dweller taking lunch in a public square, we all participate in defining space.
Against Going and Riding Armed
Edward Coke, the 17th century Attorney General and legal theorist who crafted much of what became U.S. law, promoted the simple and common sense idea that weapons and public city life don’t mix well. The well-known phrase “A man’s home is his castle” comes from Edward Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England. Less well-known is the title of the legal chapter in which this phrase appears: “Against Going and Riding Armed.” The idea is simple: weapons scare people, especially political figures and interrupt the public from playing outside. The notion of home as castle was referenced just to explain why a private home would be an exception to this prohibition of arms.
A Car Is Not a Castle.
A vehicle is not a home. The United States has had an over-emphasis on car-focused urban planning for decades. Unfortunately, this bias toward the car affects our legal code, as well. Half the states in the country have adopted “Castle Doctrine” laws, which extend the self-defense rights of one’s home to vehicles, neighbors’ homes, workplaces and other spaces. There is a vital importance of understanding the word home and taking it seriously.
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