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Why do tragedies like the death of Trayvon Martin occur? Because atrocities like the murder of Nancy Strait occur.

Nancy Strait was 85 years old, mostly blind, and had been caring for her 90-year-old husband Bob for over 65 years, when she was brutally raped and murdered. A suspect named Tyrone Woodfork, who turned 20 a few days after the attack, has been arrested, and accomplices are being sought.

Police say that Woodfork and up to four accomplices broke into Mr. and Mrs. Strait’s Tulsa, Okla., home during the overnight hours of Tuesday, March 13. They beat Bob, breaking ribs and his jaw, and shot him several times in the face with a BB-gun. They also beat and sexually assaulted Nancy. The couple was not found until the following evening. Bob survived, though he is not expected to hang on much longer. Nancy succumbed to her injuries a day later.

Police say Woodfork was captured after an alert citizen spotted the Strait’s stolen car and police questioned the driver. They were also able to track down the couple’s TV, which they say Woodfork had sold at a local gas station for $250. Woodfork’s accomplices remain at large more than a month after the crime.

The Strait family has set up a fund to help pay medical and funeral expenses, while the couple’s Tulsa neighbors have organized a neighborhood watch program. The neighbors are reasonably concerned about the fact that anyone could or would perpetrate such a heinous crime against such a defenseless and harmless couple who had little worth stealing.

It was just such a neighborhood watch program that George Zimmerman was involved in when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin. Typically these programs stress that the volunteer “watchers” are to be eyes and ears for the police – observing and reporting, not chasing or apprehending – but when you read about heartless, soulless bastards like those that attacked Bob and Nancy Strait, who could blame a neighborhood watch volunteer for tucking a little personal protection behind their belt – just in case?

That’s what George Zimmerman says he did. He says he wasn’t trying to apprehend or challenge Martin, but was trying to see where he had disappeared to when the police dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”

He says he complied and was on his way back to his car when Martin jumped him and began bashing his head into the concrete sidewalk. Recently released pictures of Zimmerman’s bloody scalp support his assertion that he was in fear for his life when he pulled out his “just in case” gun and pulled the trigger.

Were Zimmerman’s actions reasonable? Was Martin’s race a factor in Zimmerman’s suspicion? Did the fact that he had the gun on him embolden Zimmerman to cross the line from “watcher” to self-appointed “enforcer?”

We don’t know, and neither do Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson or the media pundits. What we do know is that atrocities like the one that befell Bob and Nancy Strait do happen and they do scare us. We know that such crimes are relatively unusual and unlikely to happen to us or our neighbors. But we also know that the odds of winning a $100 million PowerBall Jackpot are 1 in 175 million, and we still buy a ticket.

It is wrong to assume that because the alleged murderer of Nancy Strait was a young black man, any young black man is a threat, just as it is wrong to assume that anyone who is suspicious of a young black man is only suspicious because he is black. It would also be wrong to assume that because George Zimmerman was involved in a neighborhood watch program and had a concealed carry permit, anyone who participates in neighborhood watch or has a carry permit is a vigilante looking for trouble. But it is human nature to tend to conflate our experiences and jump to conclusions. It is well to recognize that inclination and fight it.

Why do tragedies like the killing of Trayvon Martin happen? Because of atrocities like what happened to Bob and Nancy Strait. It all feeds in a cycle of fear and mistrust that is exacerbated by people trying to sell newspapers and people who profit from the fear – including the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and, yes, the self-defense community.

Everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions and focus on practical solutions to poverty, hopelessness, a revolving door “justice” system and destructive cultures of greed and mistrust – while preserving and protecting our ability to prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, we can mourn with the families of Trayvon Martin and the Straits, and we can try to teach our children to be cautious without being irrational.

The attack on Bob and Nancy Strait is all the more tragic because they were among the last and best of what we have come to refer to as “the greatest generation.” After surviving the Great Depression, Nancy had left her small town home to go to the big city of Tulsa to work in a factory supporting the war effort. Bob was serving in the 101st Airborne Division and participated in the D-Day invasion. Though he was wounded, he turned down a Purple Heart because he didn’t feel his injuries warranted the citation. And even though he was eligible for VA medical care and other veterans’ benefits, he never took advantage of them because he felt that he had just done his job and his duty and didn’t think further compensation was warranted. To this day Bob’s family can’t convince him to accept the government assistance he earned in WWII.

Nancy and Bob Strait

These were great people, and it is heartbreaking that their last days were cut short by cowardly little thugs. An assistance fund has been set up to help with medical expenses. Anyone wishing to contribute can send checks to: Bob Strait Support Trust, c/o Arvest Bank, 502 S. Main St., Tulsa, OK 74103. Be sure to include “Bob Strait Fund” on the Memo line of the check.

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