Long Island Shooting Case Highlights Racial Divide In this week's New Yorker, staff writer Calvin Trillin writes about the trial of John White, a black man from Long Island convicted of manslaughter for killing a white teenager who came to his home and threatened his son in the summer of 2006.
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Long Island Shooting Case Highlights Racial Divide

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Long Island Shooting Case Highlights Racial Divide

Long Island Shooting Case Highlights Racial Divide

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Late last year, John White of Miller Place, New York, was convicted of manslaughter. Mr. White is African-American. Miller Place is a largely white community on Long Island, 60 miles from New York City. It's about as far from the city as you can be and still manage a daily commute which Mr. White does. The story of how he shot Daniel Cicciaro Jr., a white teenager in front of the White's spacious suburban house was all over the news in December, how White claimed it was accidental, how Cicciaro's friends and family thought it was murder. The writer, Calvin Trillin, has now written about the case for the New Yorker. His article about the story is called "The Color of Blood." It's in the current issue.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. CALVIN TRILLIN (Author, "The Color of Blood"): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And for you, one thing the story tells us is how profoundly segregated the community like Miller Place really is.

Mr. TRILLIN: Yeah, Miller Place is, I think, 0.4 percent black and Long Island is, according to study done three or four years ago, the single most segregated suburban community in the United States.

SIEGEL: Well, in a nutshell, I want you to describe why a carload of White teenagers, Dano Cicciaro among them, drove late at night to John White's house.

Mr. TRILLIN: Well, Aaron White, the youngest son of John White and the only one still living at home, he had gone to a birthday party at a nearby community. And the younger sister of the birthday boy, Jennifer, said that she felt uncomfortable in his presence and that he would have to leave. And Dano Cicciaro was asked to ask Aaron White to leave, which he did. And then when Dano found out why, which was that Jennifer said Aaron had posted a message on a chat room saying that he wanted to rape her, Dano, in her terms, freaked out and one cell phone call led to another. And pretty soon, two carloads of boys, and including one baseball bat, made their way to Aaron White's house.

SIEGEL: What was the truth to the story that Aaron had posted a threat to rape this girl on a chat room?

Mr. TRILLIN: This was a-swamp of the Internet stuff. Aaron denied it. And - asked on the stand whether she had eventually found out that Aaron didn't post that message, Jennifer said yes, she had found that out. So apparently, he didn't do it.

SIEGEL: So, this angry mission to redeem the honor of the 15-year-old girl sets off for the White house from the birthday party?

Mr. TRILLIN: Yes. And Aaron woke up his father and said something like there are these boys coming to kill me. The father, John White, took a Beretta pistol that he had inherited from his grandfather and went down to tell the boys to go home.

SIEGEL: So, there's a confrontation in front of the White's home, the very, very unusual black Miller Place homeowner confronted with a couple of carloads of white teenagers. They've had a good deal to drink, it's a menacing scene, and he has a gun, Mr. White has.

Mr. TRILLIN: Yes. Long Island is a place where protecting your home is a particularly treasured right. It's sort of an odd thing because it's assumed that the person protecting his home would be white and protecting against someone who's black. In this case, it was a black homeowner thinking he was protecting his home and family from some white teenagers.

SIEGEL: And Mr. White fires the gun.

Mr. TRILLIN: Yes. There's no question that Daniel either slapped the gun or pushed the gun or reached for the gun or grab the gun - something. And either then or a moment later, he was shot in the head.

SIEGEL: Now, Mr. White was charged with manslaughter. Was it second degree manslaughter (unintelligible)?

Mr. TRILLIN: Yes. Yeah, the DA actually wanted to charge him with murder and the grand jury wouldn't go along with that although they usually go along with the DA, they only, was charged him with manslaughter.

SIEGEL: So that sounds like leniency but as you report in the story, there were supporters of Mr. White who said that if you reversed the colors on that scene, there might not have been any even a misdemeanor charged attached to it.

Mr. TRILLIN: Well, that's one of the things that interested me about the situation is that people saw what had happened completely differently according to what race they were. Some white people including, I should say, Dano's parents were outraged that John White wasn't indicted for murder. And some supporters of John White thought that if the races had been reversed, that if it had been a white homeowner and four hostile teenagers yelling at him, there wouldn't been any charge at all.

SIEGEL: There's a line that you cite from the testimony of Mr. White's wife, Sonia White, that after the police arrived at the scene, a 15-year-old boy, I guess, has been shot in front of the White's house and as John White walks back into the house, he tells his wife we lost the house, we lost it all.

Mr. TRILLIN: Well, this is a statement that incensed Dano Cicciaro's mother who said he didn't say, oh, my God what have I done? I've shot a boy, I've shot this child, what have I done, but was worried about his house. On the other hand, it looks completely different from the White's perspective I think, this is a man who actually worked as a laborer. Even though he had a four-bedroom house in a nice neighborhood, there's a lot of overtime in that house. So, this man had worked hard in a way that sort of associated with - I don't know Booker T. Washington or something - and had managed to give his life to his family and he saw that it was gone.

SIEGEL: Well, Calvin Trillin, thank you very much for talking with us about it today.

Mr. TRILLIN: Thank you. It's good to be here.

SIEGEL: Calvin Trillin has written the article, "The Color of Blood" about the trial of John White. It's in the current issue of The New Yorker.

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