Murder by numbersWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Humanity has always had blood on its hands, from the time Cain led Abel to a field and committed the first murder to whatever heinous atrocity is in this morning’s headlines. Doubtless, every era of mankind has seen someone lament the brutality of his specific time, believing the crimes surrounding him to be unique in the dripping-red pages of history.
It is one thing to try to make sense of mankind’s penchant for war, genocide and intimate cruelty. But we are swimming in a pool of blood that seems especially frightening in its randomness. The pall cast by the Dec. 14 murders of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is an echo chamber for subsequent wicked acts that are connected by a chilling absence of humanity, empathy and respect for life.
On Christmas Day in the Miami-Dade County Brownsville area of South Florida, Darrell Brackett ran out of gas and walked to a gas station. As he was pumping the gas he had paid for, someone grabbed the gas can Brackett was carrying, doused him and set him on fire. He suffered third-degree burns on 50 percent of his body; the skin on his face was incinerated. Police have suspects but as of Jan. 10 did not have a motive.
Pastor Charles Dinkins, whose church is near the gas station where Brackett was attacked, told The Miami Herald, “We used to have citizens who stood up to say ‘We will not tolerate this,’ but we’ve developed a sense of hopelessness that often comes from neglect. Even more tragic is we in the community have become so accustomed to seeing shootings and death, that to some extent, we view it as being normal.”
Think of that: “We view it as being normal.”
Nearly 1,300 miles north, New York City has recently seen two deaths disturbing even by its jaded standards. Two people were murdered three weeks apart when they were pushed in front of oncoming subway trains. On Dec. 4, Ki Suk Han was waiting for the Q train when Naeem Davis, a man identified as a “street vendor,” allegedly and without provocation shoved him onto the tracks. The always tasteful and restrained New York Post published a front-page photo of Han frantically struggling to lift himself onto the platform seconds before the train “crushed him like a rag doll.”
On Dec. 29, Sunando Sen was allegedly pushed in front of a train and killed by Erika Menendez, who said she pushed him because she “hates Muslims.”
Sen was Hindu.
“I just pushed him in front of the train because I thought it’d be cool,” Menendez reportedly told authorities.
Six-hundred miles west, in our neighboring Detroit, the 2012 homicide rate hit its highest number in nearly two decades. The Sandy Hook shootings, Brackett fire attack and subway murders were haunting me when I read a Detroit News story titled, “Mayor Bing: We’ve lost respect for life.”
In the article, which tallied 411 Detroit homicides in 2012, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said, “We’ve just lost respect for each other; we’ve lost respect for life. I don’t want to say that you can forget about this generation or the generation before us, but if we’re going to solve the problem, we’ve got to get into the heads and the minds and the hearts of our young people, and it’s going to take all of us to do that.”
Bing added, “I think the message that we want our citizens to understand is that we need them. We need them to help us. I just don’t believe that our police department should have the total responsibility for safety in the city. There are, as the chief said, he can have an additional thousand cops, but there are things that are happening in homes and families in the communities and the neighborhoods that whether a cop was there or not is not going to stop the crime.”
Bing’s comments on our lack of respect for life seem elemental but have settled into my thoughts and woven themselves into my grief and horror. There are certainly sociologists who could make a more complex case for the swirling buckets of blood staining our era, but I wonder if all their complicated theories and statistics could be boiled down to that most basic premise.
Admittedly hindered by the blinders of my specific experiences and context, I believe that we have drifted from the notion of living with respect for others to living in vigilance of being disrespected by others. When did we arrive at a place where we lack fall-to-our-knees awe for life itself? Has the miracle of life been replaced by contempt? The physical and spiritual journey of birth and life is a marvel of science and God that should tower in our psyches as the overwhelming motivation for preserving life as shared by every breathing human.
It seems ridiculously obvious, doesn’t it? We should treasure and nurture every minute of every human life. It’s the Golden Rule reduced to its subatomic basics. As we drift further away from family and God, we edge closer to chaos and barbarity. It’s not a fear of death and its many tools of disease and accident and random unfairness; it’s a terror of the consequence of humanity turning its collective back on the intrinsic value of life and spitting on the gift of existence.
Cain killed Abel. John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln. Jack the Ripper killed a half-dozen people. Adolf Hitler killed millions. Adam Lanza killed 27. Naeem Davis and Erika Menendez each allegedly killed one person.
It’s a legacy of evil that should wither before our capacity to love. But it feels to me, as it has undoubtedly felt to many others before me, that evil has the upper hand and love is in full retreat.
The thought is not unique to me or my era, but that does not make it any less distressing or overwhelming.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.
Tags: Abel, Abraham Lincoln, Adam Lanza, Adolf Hitler, Cain, Charles Dinkins, Darrell Vrackett, Dave Bing, Detroit News, Erika Menendez, Jack the Ripper, John Wilkes Booth, Ki Suk Han, Lighting The Fuse, Miami Herald, Michael S. Miller, Naeem Davis, New York Post, Sandy Hook Elementray School, Sunando Sen