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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Haddayr Copley-Woods: Throwaways

My good friend Haddayr Copley-Woods writes another excellent column today for the Minnesota Women's Press, this time on events in her neighborhood and the related murders of two young people: one an innocent bystander in a gang shooting, and the other the originally intended target who was murdered months later.

Well, they finally did it. This time, the person aiming to kill Timothy Oliver, 18, got his man instead of a little girl doing homework in her living room. The paper didn’t say what many readers probably thought about the South Minneapolis shooting: “Oh—a gangster. Someone who doesn’t matter.”Certainly Brian Keith Edwards—the man who allegedly shot Oliver—believed he didn’t matter; so did Myon Burrell, the first man who tried to shoot him. In fact, Burrell thought both Oliver and Tyesha Edwards, the 11-year-old girl he shot and killed more than a year ago, were throwaway people. Even if he didn’t mean to shoot her specifically, he certainly didn’t care that his inexpertly aimed bullets might go astray.

At least one person doesn’t think Oliver is a throwaway: Tyesha’s stepfather, Leonard Winborn. “There’s another family that’s grieving,” he said, following the shooting. “There’s another family that’s going through the same things we did.”

Disturbed by the different reactions the two deaths caused her personally, as well as in the community, Haddayr writes about the understandable need to emotionally protect oneself from every terrible event that occurs, but wonders what effect that has over the long run. The constant attacks and death that seem to surround us not only desensitizes us to the fact that individual people die, but that each one leaves family and friends behind who will never stop grieving for their child, spouse, grade-school friend, regardless of the wrongs that person committed. She describes a particularly callous reaction that unfortunately is all too common:

For instance, I recently explained to a new acquaintance the havoc that a group of drug dealers has recently made at the end of my otherwise terrific block.

He looked sympathetic until I told him where I lived. Then he actually snorted. “I’ll bet they’re not the only drug dealers on the block,” he said. “You just have to expect that sort of thing over there.” The tone in his voice said: “Oh. That place. The place where the people don’t matter.”

Haddayr warned me that I might not like the politics in her column, and she does take a couple of shots at the state government with which I might disagree, but in essence her challenge is spiritual, not political, and personal rather than public. In a situation where a person is killed trying to harm another person, especially a child, my sympathies are reserved for the intended victim. But in this case, both victims were the targets of senseless violence, and even if Oliver belonged to a gang, it doesn't mean he deserved to be killed in cold blood, nor does it mean that the people who live in the area deserve to be written off. Oliver was 18 years old and could have turned his life around; he could have worked to help others to do the same. But now we'll never know, and his family will live the rest of their lives wondering what could have been.

As a Christian, I believe in redemption and the sanctity of life. Jesus challenged us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That doesn't mean we excuse our neighbors or don't protect ourselves from those who do us harm, but it does mean that we are challenged to do better than to consider other people -- especially entire classes of people -- as throwaways. Every life has value, at least potentially, and it's not for us to shrug off the grief and sadness of our neighbors so callously. Leonard Winborn understands this, and we should learn what he teaches. Make sure you read Haddayr's entire column.

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07:46 PM in Songs of the Shining Wire | Permalink


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