Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Blood covered up -- a death in Cumru Township

His name was Julius Johnson. Other than the fact that he was only 16 and that he was clearly a boy in trouble we know almost nothing about him. The local newspaper has never run a picture of him. They have never talked to his mom or his friends or anyone else who might be grieving for him. They've never asked what he might have done that was good in his short life.

Every time I pass by the riverfront spot where he died on a bike trail less than a mile from my house my heart breaks. It's not that I defend what he did that day. As a not-so-young bicycle rider, it's very disturbing to me that a trio of teens would attack people like they assaulted the 65-year old bike rider who shot Johnson dead and wounded a 15-year old companion of Johnson in the neck. (A third, unwounded, teen is currently incarcerated.)

But a life was lost that day. The local paper – the Reading Eagle – has not seen fit to ask any questions about that young life. The local authorities quickly ruled the shooting justified – so quickly that they could not possibly have done any investigating besides just deciding to believe the shooter's account. And then the authorities took the very unusual step of withholding the shooter's identity. The paper – forsaking their duty to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” – has not asked any questions about why this unusual step was taken. Was the shooter a relative or a politically connected friend of the legal authorities? Did he have a history of using deadly violence? Was there any kind of delay after the first shot was fired – a delay during which the (unarmed, by the way) teens would have had a chance to withdraw? I don't know the answer to any of these questions – because the paper not seen fit to ask them.

The only kind of questions the paper has chose to ask could be paraphrased as "how come the authorities didn't make sure those young animals were caged up that day." One columnist for the paper wrote in his column:

You live by the sword, you die by the sword. When the teens decided to attack that man, they put themselves at risk.
Maybe, but I'd like to point out that these kids were not carrying any swords that day. Or knives. Or guns. Or any weapon of any kind.

The attitude of this columnist illustrates what's most wrong with America today. It's what's indicated when the words "I don't care about the poor" can so easily roll off the tongue of a presidential candidate. It's the belief that there's a "us" and a "them", and I don't need to think about "them" very much, especially if they're poor or a different color than me. It's the opposite of thinking we're all in it together.

Julius Johnson may very well have been a dangerous criminal. But he was also a boy. He was also a son. He had a mother (one who had called the authorities on the day of his death because she was concerned he was not in school). It's not right to treat the loss of his life like it was nothing more than the disposal of some unwanted garbage.

We should, instead, understand that loss as a tragedy – one that should cause us to ask some deep and troubling questions. We should stop covering up what happened. We all need the truth.

May the Holy Blessed One comfort his mourners.

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