A LETTER ARRIVED a few days ago from my friend David Murray, an anthropologist, teacher, and father of three. I have asked for, and been given, his permission to share it.
If you can, look up a recent story here in Fairfax, Va., about the murder of a 13-year-old boy whose body was discovered Christmas week. It really says something about capital punishment and about those who suffer when justice isn't done.
Sometimes, you know, it isn't the facts and figures and "issues." Sometimes it's just one case that slams you in the gut.
This kid was just 13. The pictures of him show a freckle-faced, eager scamp, maybe getting new sneakers for Christmas, rushing to grow up, hungry for life, hungry to get on with things. Soon there would be a car, maybe; freedom, maybe. I imagine he was the kind of kid who'd pull a prank and then run for it, or skateboard until he was breathless. I bet he wished he were bigger and stronger, more of an athlete. He probably played hookey a lot and got into some discipline in school.
But when he stayed up late and fell asleep on the couch, you could probably pick him up in your arms and carry him upstairs and wipe damp hair from his forehead, still warm with his intensity and his dreams. I'll bet he loved his mom, deep down, no matter what he said when his friends were around.
His last waking minutes, it seems, were spent staring up and being brutally violated for someone's lust. And when his human dignity was gone, his innocence sullied, he felt something sharp plunge into his chest. And another plunge. And another. Gasping, thrashing, his life in this world about to end, he must have twisted frantically, like a trapped dog being smothered.
Struggling, panic, then -- darkness, God's sorrow, and finally only his limp child's body, no longer worth the pleasure, thrown into a drainage pond behind his house. There was no majesty in his going.
He ended in a frozen sinkhole, about 30 feet in diameter, surrounded by cattails. It was where he and his friends played when they were being daring. His body broke the ice when he was flung in; it was found only when some police divers went out there for training.
His mother had reported him missing two weeks earlier. The cops told her, Yeah, there's a lot of that going around. Runaways, you know.
The mother and her family, maybe a bit disreputable to judge from the newspaper photos, want to know why the cops just ignored them. Her son was gone, dammit. What had happened to him? Why didn't the police care?
Well, now they've got the guy who -- it is alleged -- did it. "Buck," he's called, a guy from the neighborhood. Criminal record? Oh, yeah. In and out of prison -- mostly in -- since 1970. Murder, malicious wounding, maiming, kidnapping. Killed a prison inmate. Slashed a cabdriver's throat and left him for dead. Yet he was out on parole. Mandatory parole. Twenty-five years' worth of victims, but Virginia set him free. Killer, sexual deviant, cruel, homicidal -- or am I being too judgmental here?
Dammit, Jeff, this boy didn't have to die. The circle of those affected by his death, as in a pool hit by a pebble, widens daily. His mother, her family, his junior high classmates. The family's friends, red-eyed with grief, pissed at the cops and the system, feeling that they didn't count because they weren't official "victims," or O.J., or anybody at all -- just trailer-park folks with a missing child. Now they're fodder for a well-coiffed TV newswoman. Film at 11. Tsk-tsk, so shocking.
What I want to know is, where's Whoopi Goldberg and Ed Asner and maybe Norman Mailer? Why aren't they here, hitting this hard, pointing out the miscarriage of justice? They were sure there for Mumia Abu Jamal, who killed a cop, and Leonard Peltier, the Native American who shot an FBI agent. They're always there to protest when some butcher on Death Row is facing the chair. Always there to denounce the system, demand justice. Disinterested "civil libertarians," serving the underdog.
Well, this underdog's name was Jonathan. He was denied his life because a killer was turned loose rather than executed. No system of justice in recorded history has ever equated the life of a murdered innocent child with that of a homicidal, depraved predator. Jeff, ours does.
If Buck had faced justice after his first slaughter, Jonathan would still be a boy with another day inside him, another jest, another chance at making his mother proud. All he is now is a frozen corpse. That's it, end of story.
Why was this guy walking around free? Why was he still alive?
Ed? Whoopi? You got an answer for this, or are you busy preparing your next rally against capital punishment? Ed? Whoopi? Why do you care more about turning evil people loose in places you never walk, than you do about the viciousness that follows once your famous heads are turned?
Ed. Whoopi. Why don't you go home, please, and shut up. There are people here who have to mourn a child's death. And after this one, there will be still others.
Thanks for listening, Jeff. Take care,
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)