August 26, 2013

Editorial | US needs to find way to talk about violence

The following editorial appeared in The Florence Morning News on Sunday:

The following editorial appeared in The Florence Morning News on Sunday:

The White House didn’t know about it when asked this week. The Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted it was “frowned upon.” The American mainstream media hasn’t yet seized upon it with relentless coverage.

Last week Australian baseball player, Christopher Lane, was brutally murdered, gunned down arbitrarily by three teens looking to break up the tedium of the dog days in Duncan, Okla.

Lane, playing collegiately in the States, was jogging through an affluent neighborhood when his attackers drove up behind him and shot him fatally in the back. He likely never saw his assailants coming, and they left his body in the gutter. They were reportedly “bored” and wanted to kill someone, anyone, “for the fun of it,” one suspect told Duncan Police Chief Dan Ford. Authorities said the suspects were arrested that evening, apparently while stalking another victim.

Australians are outraged, as the country’s former deputy prime minister has called for people there to rethink travel plans to the U.S. because of America’s “murder mayhem on Main Street.”

Maybe, like the Trayvon Martin case, the constituents of guns, race (Lane was white, while two the accused teens are black) and the sheer senselessness of the whole ordeal will coalesce into another national firestorm that momentarily jars us from our daily routines and ignites emotional fervor until it doesn’t anymore. Maybe it'll be like most other callous murders in this country and fade away.

We say that would be wrong. We fear what could be of far greater consequence, however, is if Lane’s harrowing death becomes boiled down to the usual talking points, complete with an overwrought eagerness to define the cause without asking all the pertinent questions.

It would be short-sighted to add Lane’s death to the raging gun control debate – even if some anti-gun advocates will likely be tempted to lump Lane’s murder by gunfire to the AK-47 wielding man in a Georgia school last week. Nor should it be merely a flashpoint for racial reflection in America, despite racially motivated social media postings tied to one of the accused, 15-year-old James Edwards.

When it comes to bloodshed, we want palatable answers that help the rest of us cautiously navigate a violent world. Certainly, the threads that connect many of these events – as well as the likes of Newtown and Aurora – are plentiful: guns, of course, are one such aspect, as are mentally disturbed individuals. But there are also bigger questions, questions about ourselves, our moral structure and our culture than many of us may feel uncomfortable discussing.

Yet, this is the formidable task we must take head on if we really want to uncover root causes and whatever we do or don’t do will ultimately shape this country’s future in a profound way.

Lane’s slaying has exposed a rotted fault line, a decay of structure in American culture where three teens without apparent conscience would murder an innocent without reason. Perhaps it was a gang initiation, as has been suggested, or perhaps that is giving the three accused too much credit. Ultimately, we may never know the motivation of Edwards, Allen Luna or Michael Jones.

But what is known is that there is much missing in the families of those three teenagers and others caught up in a futile and currently endless cycle of violence, a tragedy that is far too prevalent in American life. Solid parental structures, leaders, community centers and churches, those things that sinew communities together and build avenues for upward mobility are too few. Generational poverty is too common.

When and if the conversation takes places, there will be voices calling for condemnation of guns, some will pin the blame on race relations in this country – on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation no less – that have yet to be acquiesced while others will cite a combination of those two and other issues as well.

There may be shreds of truth in all of that, but this should not be a conversation that suits to merely serve political agendas. To do so would be to debase the larger context, a far more dangerous outcome for this country’s future.

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