Thursday, August 09, 2007


Shock in Newark

Last weekend in Newark, NJ, four young men and women, ages 18 to 20, were shot, execution-style. Three of them died.

On Wednesday, one of the local radio stations had this item on one of its talk shows:

Shock in Newark

Clement Price, professor of political science at Rutgers University in Newark, talks about why the murders of three Newark teenagers is so shocking to the city.

Now, there's lots of crime in Newark, and lots of violent crime in particular. Newark is not a stranger to murders. Gangs are active there. The presumption is that these murders are “shocking” because these were “good kids”. That, of course, is in contrast to bad kids, who are in gangs, who do drugs, who make trouble. The kids whose violent deaths don't shock us, because we almost expect them. We knew those kids would come to no good, and we were right. But these kids aren't like that, so we're shocked.

But that line of thinking bothers me a great deal, as does the idea that someone needs to get on a radio talk show and explain to us why a triple murder is shocking.

I find all murders shocking, horrible reminders of where we come from, of what our nature is. We're intelligent, we've built great societies, we've developed social mores, and we've brought ourselves above that nature. We're civilized, and we don't kill each other wantonly. But down there, inside us, that nature is still there, and yes, we do kill each other. And I find that shocking.

I will never get used to turning to the news and seeing another report of a murder, another interview with the cousin of the victim, another report of someone shot or knifed or beaten out of greed, jealousy, revenge, or competition.

And it's easy to say that it's the sort of thing that happens “over there”. We hear about a shooting, and before we hear where it was we think about parts of the Bronx. Parts of Brooklyn. Yonkers, Mt Vernon, Newark. You have those places too, where you live, under your own local names. It happens more often there, but it can happen anywhere, and it does, and it's shocking when it does. It's shocking when it happens anywhere, including those places on our short-list.

I certainly hope we're shocked.

All murders shock and appall me, whether the dead be “good” people or “bad” ones. It shocks me that we've turned parts of where we live into places where this sort of thing is sufficiently usual that we've become largely inured to it. It shocks me that we have let ourselves become inured to it. And it scares me that someone has to explain to us why that's a bad thing.

1 comment:

Dr. Momentum said...

Wow. Well there's a lot here underlying the comment and your reaction.

One thing is the sense of control people like to have. We like to think that if we just act a certain way, we won't be touched by this sort of violence. But when it happens to someone on drugs, in some sense, they were asking for it.

Just because drugs are illegal doesn't mean the murder of a drug user is somehow justified. It is true that you can increase your chances of getting into certain kinds of trouble, but it shouldn't translate into imagining you're immune if you don't engage in risky behavior.

"This is why you should be shocked" is an appeal for attention by this media personality; it's an attempt to stir up fear for sensational purposes. That upsets me, too.

On the other hand, if there were some sort of trend like an upswing in the number of murders, it might be legitimate to note that something was changing and that the current efforts to protect citizens from violent crime were falling short. But I don't think this is what you were seeing.