Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A local Murder

Last weekend, a young man was murdered in a park in my small town.  The park has a baseball field where the local high school and churches play their league games.  It has a small pool for infants and toddlers, a playground with about 6 or 8 pieces of play equipment, and a tennis court with 4 playing areas, and a basketball court with 4 hoops.  Besides the play areas, the a pathway in the park accesses directly to the walking paths that connect one end of town with the other.  Currently, I walk my dog there; in the past I frequently took my children there to play on the swings.  Obviously, my town is experiencing some shock and disbelief concerning this tragic event.

The details of the killing, as are known to me today, involve 3 teenage boys plotting to rob a drug dealer.  They stole two guns from the home of one of the boys, and set up a drug buy at the park where they attempted to rob the victim at gunpoint.  At first, the young man drove away from the boys, but then he emerged from his car to confront them.  At this point, one of the boys fired at the victim, striking him in the chest which proved to be a fatal wound.

Before starting this post, I read the local newspaper account so as to present the facts as they are known.  I also checked the comments which had been posted after the news story to get a feel for my community's reaction.  Unfortunately, there weren't many comments, only 4.

The first one described the boys as scum and wished them a long life in prison.

The second thought them heroes for killing a drug dealer, wanted to name them honorary policemen, and hoped they would be freed using a self defense plea and so be able to kill other drug dealers.

The third comment asked for sympathy for all parties with a version of the quote "there but for the grace of God go thee".  The fourth comment agreed with the third by praising her empathy.

Additionally, I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance, who told me that had the victim been his grandchild, he would make sure that the case never went to trial, presumably meaning that he would kill the boy as revenge.

So, where do we go from here.

The motives of the boys is not fully known.  Were they interested in the money only, figuring a drug dealer wouldn't contact the police if robbed, or did they believe they were acting as some sort of vigilantes, ridding their community of a drug dealer?  The boys are 15 and 16 years old, so I tend to think their motivations were mostly material, but I certainly do not know for sure but there is also the question of how they knew who to call for the drugs, i.e were they in the habit of buying drugs, which may have inspired their plot.

As a 16 year old, it is possible that he could have known where his parents stored their guns, and even the key if they were locked up safely, but I imagine that there are many people in my community who feel that the parents may be partially at fault.  My sentiments on the ease in which guns can be acquired are no secret, but I also acknowledge that a significant percentage of gun owners are responsible.  If it turns out that this is untrue in this case, I imagine that the community will continue to be in turmoil through both the murder trial (if there is not a plea bargain) and the inevitable civil trial that will follow.  Perhaps the parents did lock their guns, and bullets in separate places but failed to maintain the secret location of the key.  Perhaps the boy had handled the guns in the past so they thought it safe to be less vigilant because he could be trusted.  As the details have been related so far, the boy whose parents owned the guns was not one of the shooters but, allegedly fled the scene before the shooting took place.  

And, of course, the victim who was certainly a victim in that he did not deserve to die just because he was selling drugs, was not completely a victim, as he was involved in an illegal activity.  Plus, the current story surrounding the details of the murder paint him as a possible aggressor, although we will never know his side of the story since he is dead.  I would hope that the details as presented by the boys in custody can be confirmed by an independent witness, and not taken as gospel.  Had the victim been arrested before on drug charges?  Or was this a relatively new way for him to make some money?  For those who might say, what does it matter, one strike or three, do you apply the same standards to your self, your spouse, your presidential candidate?  

Turning to the comments, small sample as it is, I can't help but relate it to virtually all the important topics under debate today, in that each extreme response is represented.  While a middle ground is also noted, and even confirmed, I don't think I would be going out on a limb when I suggest that it will be the two extreme responses that will be repeated more often, agreed to or defended depending on the perspective of the voices being heard.  Those are the responses that make for good TV and radio and internet postings, whereas the calls for sympathy, reasoning, and a more full understanding of the facts and the people involved will most likely be ignored.  I imagine, and have heard a few people state it, that the preliminary hearing for the boys will be very tense, very charged, and very covered by those who only see a story without seeing the people or the community involved in that story.

America, and Americans, may represent one of the greatest paradoxes of mankind's history.  We are generous to a fault, donating billions of dollars to everything from kids in far away countries to abused animals to the victims of natural and man made disasters.  Yet we continue to send convicted citizens to death row, talk of torturing both our enemies and their families, use unmanned drones to kill the guilty and innocent alike via bombs from above, and seek revenge whenever we feel slighted.

The truly sad thing about this murder, is that the details will be lost in the controversy that surrounds and permeates our national discussions about crime, drugs, gun control, violence.  We may never know why those boys thought that a few hundred dollars from a drug dealer was worth his life or why their victim turned his back on legitimate work to sell drugs or why the parents of the young man in jail thought a gun would protect them, and from whom they sought protection.  
I saw the end of the movie Starman yesterday.  We are described as an interesting species by the alien visitor in that we are at our best under the worst of conditions.  Yet, incidents like this murder, and the knee jerk, extreme responses that it evokes, makes me wonder.  Despite the tag line of the GOP presidential nominee, America is great, right now.  We have the resources, both intellectual and monetary, that, were they properly focused, could solve most of our problems, if the goal was to actually solve them, and not be able to take credit for the solutions so as to enhance one's bank account or further one's political career.  But, like the alcoholic or drug addict, the first step is admitting a problem which can never happen as long as it is easier and more lucrative to blame "others".

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