“To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences…”
In 1951, author Ray Bradbury wrote a short story titled The Pedestrian. Set in 2053, the story’s protagonist is Leonard Mead, a man who walks alone at night, seemingly for the pure joy of it. He never meets anyone else on these nocturnal walks. His neighbors are all inside - watching television. In fact, so few people are ever out in the public realm that the city’s police force had been reduced to a single car. The act of walking in a place where no one else ever walks is viewed as suspicious by the local authorities, who stop, question, and arrest him, incredulous to his explanation that he simply likes to walk. “Walking for air, walking to see,” as Mead puts it.
Bradbury of course is best known for his fantasy stories and science fiction. But as it turns out, Bradbury’s dystopian vision was not so farfetched; imagining a country where something as innocuous as walking someplace could be viewed as suspicious, as it typically is in today’s gated ‘chemlawn hinterlands’ of suburban sprawl. To not have an automobile in such environments is to exist as a societal outcast worthy of suspicion. So what do Trayvon Martin and Leonard Mead have in common? Was the built environment of gated suburbia (and gated mindset) a factor in the tragedy? To me, both Martin and Mead represent the criminalization and stigma of walking; of being a pedestrian.
Roger Steutville from Better Cities and Towns weighed in and pondered the same:
“In all of this agitation, the physical environment that discriminates against, and focuses suspicion on, anyone who doesn’t drive should not be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine this kind of tragedy playing out today in the same way on the block of a walkable city or town.”
In Bradbudy’s Pedestrian, substitute ‘Leonard Mead’ for Trayvon Martin and the year 2012 instead of 2053. The eerie similarities to that fateful evening last February in Sanford are uncanny.
He turned back on a side street, circling around toward his home. He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn toward it. A metallic voice called to him: “Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!”
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