Times have changed, but what of the crimes?
The trial a decade ago of John Wade Carter, a white man, accused of murdering a black man, Wayne Raines, merely because Carter had seen Raines in a restaurant drinking coffee with a white woman, is still my benchmark for officially sanctioned outrage.
Getting a jury wasn't the problem. Getting a verdict was.
The first trial ended in a mistrial. The second ended in a bizarre and insufficient second-degree murder conviction, with the jury somehow convinced that Carter didn't mean to kill anybody when he aimed a gun out the window of his car and blew out the brains of the black man he had just chased for several miles down the interstate.
This was in Tampa. You will note nobody bothered to move the trial. Nobody worried much about the jury, except about whether anybody on the panel owned a gun and knew how to use it.
Otherwise, nobody cared enough.
There is no small anger abroad in town now _ in case we need any more _ among black people, particularly, who think the judge was wrong and racially insensitive to decide Wednesday to move the trial of the two white men accused of torching that black tourist, Christopher Wilson. To make matters worse, the judge wants to move the case, if he can, to Orlando.
The anger has a point. The reasoning goes like this: The cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted in Simi Valley, and William Lozano, the former Miami cop who shot and killed a black motorist, was acquitted in Orlando, Florida's Simi Valley, and moving the Wilson case there almost certainly guarantees that Charles Rourk and Mark Kohut, the defendants, will walk away from the charges.
Nothing, as far as I can tell, is guaranteed. But I saw something good, not evil, in the decision Judge Don Evans made Wednesday to move the trial. The reason is summed up in the words of a white would-be juror who said that the crime made her ashamed to say she lived in this county.
Let's put it another way: She cared.
In great contrast to a public that was mostly unmoved by the cold-blooded killing of Wayne Raines, a couple of hundred people passed through Evans' courtroom and said in effect that they cared enough about what happened to Christopher Wilson that they read the papers and paid attention when his name showed up on TV. They cared enough, in some cases, that they had drawn a conclusion about Rourk and Kohut, that the two were guilty.
People who had already made up their minds about the guilt of the two men would never, not even on a cold day in hell, have made it onto the jury. But if the selection process hadn't otherwise been marred by enough screw-ups to make it seem that the Keystone Kops were running the show, enough jurors might have been chosen from the rest of the pool.
Perhaps I have been afflicted by an uncharacteristic burst of optimism. Or else these words are proof of the benefit of a sense of history: Ten years is a long time. Could it be that Tampa has improved a little?
I'd like to think so.
Or else we are so inured to guns that the violence they do does not move us. Somebody has to be set afire to get our attention. Or somebody black has to be set afire for whites to give a damn.
It's a helluva town. Ten years ago, I never thought anybody could do what John Wade Carter did, never thought the case would fade away with little more than a murmur. Nor did I ever think anything could be done to a man as was done to Christopher Wilson a decade later.
The town changed a little, I said before. Or was that excessively optimistic?
Yes, but for another reason. They can hold this trial anywhere, even on the moon, if unbiased jurors can be found there. But it will not change the fact of where this hideous thing occurred in the life of Christopher Wilson, and indirectly in the lives of all of us here, those of who care about it and those who do not.