The news last Monday night was jarring.
A young man shot in the head. The alleged shooter, according to Sheriff’s Office reports, using the most vile and debasing of racial slurs in the process.
The alleged shooter indicating inconvenience at his arrest for after all, given his choice of language, he had only shot a lower form of species.
As we stated online, it was a sad day for the community.
We may never know or fully understand the thinking of shooter and victim in those fateful seconds before a meeting that left a young man bleeding from his head on the ground while the alleged shooter continued to cook his supper inside.
There have been no shortage of theories offered up online during the week, some reasonable while others stem from an ignorance as malevolent as the source of those racial slurs uttered last Monday night.
Read the thread of comments online at the www.starfl.com or the The Port St. Joe Star Facebook page and become illuminated about the miles traveled since the country woke up to the horrors of its racial divide and the miles left to travel.
Not that the South – just three generations removed from school integration in Gulf County – and Jim Crow has any kind of monopoly on the racial insensitivity and bile on display last week.
As a teenager I watched and listened as large swaths of nearby Detroit and my hometown of Toledo, Ohio went up in the flames of race riots during a hot summer not all that long ago.
I attended a high school that drew from a large demographic in Toledo, a school that itself was embroiled, with words and fisticuffs, in the war for civil rights that was raging around the country.
Reports this week out of Wisconsin, the Dairy State for heaven’s sake, reveal an ethnic and racial divide that can lead, in too many of us, unfortunately, to homicidal rage.
Men and women shot for their differences, for their choice of clothes and headware, the color of their skin.
But as last week progressed in Gulf County there was an outpouring, a gathering of like minds and hearts to speak out, in a fashion, against the kind of narrow-minded thinking that left 32-year-old Everett Gant bleeding on the stoop of Walton Butler’s apartment.
One of the hopes here is that Everett Gant one day fully recovers to understand the extent to which he touched so many people’s lives in Gulf County, in Port St. Joe.
Gant is a bear of a fellow, but an easy-going lovable teddy bear sidling through life with a general sense of purpose to be helpful and to make the peace where that is possible, because as he once told me in the parking lot outside our office, where his sister once worked, “drama” is not his game.
Sure, Everett has his faults. Until the second coming that would apply to us all.
But the stunning thing in the aftermath of his tragic shooting has been the ladles of love, thoughts and prayers poured in the direction of the Everett and his family.
The messages across social media in the days following the event reflected a horror, almost a sense of shame, a sense of that is not who we are, a wish for healing, not just for Everett but the thoughts behind that trigger.
A Facebook page was up by Tuesday evening providing an outlet for all those who had been touched by Everett, were friends with Everett, who were stunned and saddened by the news that this kind and gentle giant had been injured in such horrific circumstances.
A roadside sign in Port St. Joe encouraged everybody to “Pray for Everett.”
George Duren, owner of the Piggly Wiggly in Port St. Joe, lit up the large Port City Shopping Center sign with a “Praying for Everett” message.
The Port St. Joe Lions Club seeded and established a bank account to help defray medical costs.
On Sunday, my wife and I traveled to the peninsula to watch the release of a green sea turtle. While there, I overhead a conversation about Everett, about his current condition and the shock over the events of last week.
I asked the two young ladies how they knew Everett, where they were from and it turned out they were two young women from Wewahitchka and somehow, someway, Everett had walked into their lives and left behind his huge footprints.
That is Everett and the thoughts and prayers of a community reached out to he and his family last week.
Thanks in large measure to the passion of Heather Raffield, a candlelight vigil was organized on the fly for the last Wednesday night.
Many sent messages that they would be unable to attend but would be there in spirit and thought.
More than 100 folks turned out to light a candle and pray for the full recovery of Everett Gant. Black and white, young and old, it was a community gathering, one that ignored rail lines and status and so much that divides us in order to unite.
In a sense, maybe, they also sought a kind of redemption from the callous bigotry so awfully on display last Monday, to provide a testament that Butler did not reflect the values of this community, that the community carries intolerance to his thinking, his hatred of skin tones.
On some level, Butler’s words and deeds diminished us all.
A community’s response to those words and deeds offered a pathway back to the high road.