Senseless Death

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Forgive me a personal moment here, but I know more than I wish I did about senseless death. Watching the smartest, loveliest, kindest woman I have ever known slowly die over the course of more than a decade, despite an initial 99% likelihood of survival, the best treatment good health insurance could buy, a will of iron and more physical fortitude than any three people I know, all of that is as senseless as it can possibly get.

It’s different than a gun murder, but no more comprehensible. Who was responsible? Nobody. Who screwed up? Nobody. It just happened. “Biology is destiny,” she would say in one of her more philosophical moments. Nature happened. Some would say it was God. I don’t buy that (I pretty much don’t buy God, but that’s a whole other conversation).

Similarly, who killed Freddie Gray or Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? Legally speaking at least, the answer, for all kinds of mostly bad reasons, is almost assuredly going to end up being “nobody.” They’re just dead. I can have an opinion and so can you, but in the end, people who shouldn’t be dead are dead, and the ripple effects of those deaths are going to careen around like crazy ping pong balls for years and years and years. Sounds very familiar – and depressing – to me.

Charlie Pierce captures this senselessness perfectly today, so much so that I’m going to quote him two days in a row. Rare, but appropriate. His title is “I Dread What’s Coming. Truly, I Do.” and as always, he’s right on the money.

I dread what’s coming. Truly, I do.

By all accounts, including Radley Balko’s, the Dallas Police Department is the very model of a modern urban law enforcement operation. That is going to be lost in the cacophony (and worse) of what comes next. Just as the events in Dallas profaned the victims in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, whatever vengeance is taken by law enforcement that profanes the victims in Dallas likely will be taken far from that wounded place. The political utility of this awful series of events is going to be manifested in ways loud and indecent. I won’t even dignify it by mocking it, not right away, at any rate. I choose for the moment not to ride with the Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse.
This week has now flown so far beyond politics that it is barely visible any more from the ideological trenches in which we have grown so comfortable. It began with the impromptu execution of two African-American citizens at the hands of police in Louisiana and in Minnesota. It ended with the organized execution from ambush of Dallas police officers. I do not intend to contribute to the general rhetorical melee.
Yes, I believe that there should be far fewer high-powered firearms in the hands of the general American public, but I’m not going to get into stupid arguments over what is and what isn’t an assault weapon. Yes, I believe there remains a serious crisis in American law enforcement with regard to the militarization in thought and in materiel of the people who are charged with keeping what we call the peace.
But, for today, anyway, I am going to make the unremarkable point that none of these people, not the two victims of police violence nor the five victims of Thursday night, need to be dead right now. Their deaths served no purpose. Ennobling them in public grief doesn’t make those deaths any less unnecessary. There is too much useless death in this country, too much pointless martyrdom. That is the lesson of this awful week. That is the only lesson worth listening to in the days ahead.

I can’t resist one moment of humor – I’ll put “Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse” up there with “vulgar talking yam” as one of the best metaphors of 2016.

I couldn’t control the senseless death that happened in my life. No one could. But we, collectively, can do something to at least minimize the senseless deaths that are happening every day, day in, day out, like a drumbeat, so strong and persistent that we have come to be desensitized to them as individual events with enormous repercussions for real people, be they black and brown family and friends or the loved ones of police officers gunned down in horrific and bizarre retaliation.

For a long time, I was stricken with the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could have done something, anything to keep my wife from dying a week just about four years ago now – July 15, 2012. Guilt doesn’t begin to cover what that felt like. I had to come to terms with the reality that I couldn’t have done a damn thing. That was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to accept. There was nothing I could do. At all.

We – the collective “we” here, not any particular person – have the power to do SOMETHING. Yes, the problems are large and intractable and will take enormous effort and decades to lead to real solutions. But surely we can start small – stop watching the terrible cable coverage, stop engaging in the polarized shouting and ritualistic either/or posturing of political monsters with a vested interest in the trench warfare of the status quo? We may never know what saves a particular life but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

The Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse don’t need any help right now, so let’s not ride with them today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Maybe, over a period of time, we will find that we don’t need the visceral satisfaction of those Hobby Horses anymore. At least not when hundreds and thousands of senseless deaths are on the line. Which they are. The fact that there are going to be enormous casualties doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to avoid some of them.

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