Taking the measure of a life
Someone shot and killed Tanaya Gilbert last week. The first question is: Why? No reason would be a good one, but surely something powerfully moved whoever held the gun.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Homicide isn't the most common way people die, but it usually draws the most public attention.
Disease and accidents take far more lives, but murder has that other element, a human being intentionally taking another person's life. That shocks us.
Someone shot and killed Tanaya Gilbert last week. She was just barely 19 and seven weeks pregnant.
She was sitting in a car with a 16-year-old friend, who was also shot, as were two young men who were nearby.
The first question is: Why? No reason would be a good reason, but surely something powerfully moved whoever held the gun.
And who was that? I don't just want a name, I want to know what kind of person pulled the trigger, and what his relationship was to the people he shot. We distinguish between crimes of passion and coldblooded murder.
Understanding never brings the dead back, but it gives the living a frame of reference; the deed can be put in its proper mental box, one that offers reassurance that death will probably not come for us in the same way. That comforts only people who experience the tragedy at a distance. For a victim's family and friends, there is no comfort at all.
The rest of us may want to know who the victim was, at least enough to determine how much we should care, how much we should feel, how big the headline will be, how kind or nasty the comments detached observers make, how long the death holds our attention.
Tanaya Gilbert wasn't Caylee Anthony, whose death had a dramatic narrative made for TV. A mother who kills her child is a rare thing, and that is what Casey Anthony was accused of doing. And the reason given? So the child wouldn't interfere with her partying.
A few days before the shooting in Seattle, Casey Anthony's trial ended, and followers were disappointed that she was not convicted of murder. The plot was not fulfilled. She was convicted only of lying to the police.
I suspect Anthony has more media life ahead of her. How long will we pay attention to Gilbert's death?
In comments on news stories about the Seattle shooting, more than a few people said, same old, same old, nothing new.
What they meant, and sometimes spelled out, was that this was a case of a young black person killing another black person, so yawn.
And the racist comments themselves were nothing new.
I'm tired of seeing young people destroy lives, but not tired enough to stop caring. For people who don't care, I suspect there's more going on than fatigue. (In some cases there was more glee than fatigue, "thinning the herd ... let them go at it," someone posted on KOMO's site. There were similar messages elsewhere.)
It's easy to dismiss foul commenters as a few Neanderthals, which some of them are, but the sentiment lingers in the fabric of our society.
A string of studies conducted over the years, beginning with a famous one by the late David Baldus, a University of Iowa law professor, have found that whether a victim is black or white matters a great deal.
When the victim is white, the killer is more than four times more likely to get the death penalty than when the victim is black.
I'm sure the difference isn't hateful or even intentional, it just reflects feelings brewed over centuries of prejudice.
Those feelings encourage a collective shrug, which does nothing to break the sorry pattern.
While some of the ways we measure a death can't change, this one can and should. Every murder should move us.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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