August 12, 2007

Lives Gone, Lives Valued

Staying positive isn’t easy:
There were moments when the tears would stop just long enough for Mejia to see clearly what had happened to her life. Her arms rested across her round belly -- her first child, Mariana, is due this month. The body of her husband, Pablo Mejia Jr., lay in a casket an arm's length away from where she sat in the funeral parlor on Wednesday, the bullet wound in his forehead patched over in a way that the family's grief can never be.

A handmade rosary of yellow roses from an aunt, notes from friends and family, and a drawing from a 10-year-old godchild had been tucked into the coffin of a young man who had been actively pursuing the rebuilding of New Orleans. He was the third generation of a Hispanic family in New Orleans. The birth of his daughter would begin the fourth generation of family with roots in the city and a determination to stay and contribute to its rebirth.
Mejia was working on his house, with a friend, at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Three gunmen robbed them, then shot Mejia, in his home, as he was rebuilding, in the daytime.

Further east in New Orleans East, a man and woman were shot yesterday morning:
Nguyen and Vu, who lived together at the Savoie Court address, owned three companies including a real estate firm, LA Properties of Slidell LLC, formed in May 2004. The company had purchased several properties in the Castle Manor neighborhood of eastern New Orleans.
Not only is violent crime killing our recovery as a metaphor, it is actually killing those who are staying to rebuild.

I am trying to stay positive. Staying positive doesn’t mean you have to say something positive about everything, or find something positive in everything. There is nothing positive in these stories.

The positive goal I would like to set for myself and the media: Treat every murder as the murder of a human being; treat every human being as equal; therefore, treat every murder as equal.

By the media account, Pablo Mejia was a good man. His family and friends know this. And, from what I read in the article, our community has gained from his presence, and will lose something in his absence.

But we lose something in every violent death. And we need to recognize this. Every murder in the city of New Orleans should be treated equally. Every murder should have an above-the-fold picture on the front page of the Living section of the Times-Picayune, with the story continued on a full page inside.

Part of the reason why we have as many murders as we have is we don’t value every human being’s life as equal in our city.

Let’s take Central City as an example.

Standing in the 2500 block of 3rd Street, in the middle of Central City, you are surrounded by violent death. Walk less than a mile (0.7 miles) in every direction from that point, and you encounter the scenes of 20 murders in 2007 (see the image below).

After a brief internet search, I found no two-page Living section articles about the people murdered inside that circle of violent death. Please, let me know if I am wrong.

If you think that they do not deserve a two-page Living section article revealing who they were beyond simply how they died, then how about at least a one-page article? How about a blurb other than “An unidentified man was shot to death…” or “The Orleans Parish coroner's office has released the identity of a man who was shot to death…” or an article that may as well be titled “A bad man gone,” listing all the times the murdered was shot or arrested or both?

Indeed, the bad is part of the story just as the good is part of the story. But the “bad guys” weren’t always bad. You are not born bad. You are taught bad.

We need to value every life as equal.

If we don’t, then we don’t value a child enough to make sure he or she is *not* living a home life that isn’t much better than a homeless life.

If we don’t, then we don’t value a child enough to make sure he or she does *not* go to a school where no learning occurs.

If we don’t, then we don’t value a child enough to make sure he or she receives preventative health care and enough (and nutritious enough) food to stay healthy.

If we don’t value every life as equal, then we don’t value a child enough to make sure he or she does not choose the street over the community and then dies a violent death.

That is how you teach bad, by not valuing every life as equal.

I have added a Goal for New Orleans in my sidebar that reads:
NOLA will have the lowest per capita murder rate in the United States for cities with populations between 250,000 and 300,000.
If we value every life as equal, we will achieve that goal.

If we had valued every life as equal, we would be there already.

As a goal for myself, I will become active in Care Forgot, an idea communicated to me by Ray and Alan Gutierrez. The idea is to remember every life lost to violent murder in New Orleans equally - a truly positive goal.


The German said...

I disagree. Is a child-molester/rapist's life equal to mine, or yours? I don't think so. Our "life's worth" is the sum total of the effects of our actions in the short time we are here. So, it is up to each of us to determine our worth. We may be equal in the eyes of our creator, but not to each other, never have, never will.

Regardless of worth, the media's main goal is to have attract readers/viewers. I do not think lengthy pieces about criminals will accomplish this. Whether that should be the main goal of the media is another story.

One final thought, If all people murdered should receive equal coverage by the media, why not everyone who dies?

m.d. said...

“Is a child-molester/rapist's life equal to mine, or yours? I don't think so.”

Before that child molester/rapist molested a child or raped another human, was he or she a child-molester/rapist? I don’t think so.

What I am talking about in my post is valuing every life way before the violent crime is committed, and valuing every life throughout “the short time we are here” so that the violent crime will never be committed. It is a preventive strategy.

“So, it is up to each of us to determine our worth.”

Come on. For the vast majority of us, our “worth” is assigned to us before we are born. And that goes both ways. You may benefit from thousands of years of privilege and generational wealth and status, or you may be born into a social group that has historically been devalued and has not had access to the dominant culture. You wrote as much yourself: “We may be equal in the eyes of our creator, but not to each other.” I would also add that we are supposedly equal in the eyes of the law.

“Regardless of worth, the media's main goal is to have attract readers/viewers.”

This is not the “media’s” main goal. This is the main goal of the corporate owners who monopolize the ways used to disseminate information. When I worked for a TV news station, I viewed news gathering as my service to my community. I see what you and I and other bloggers are doing as the media, also. My main goal is not to attract readers. As you said, though, this is “another story.”

“One final thought, If all people murdered should receive equal coverage by the media, why not everyone who dies?”

In New Orleans, there is a murder crisis right now, and it is disproportionately affecting young African-American males in specific geographic areas. That’s what warrants coverage.

Look at the Central City map and the 20 murders there. That is a story in itself, no matter what the race, age, or class of the murdered.

Equal media coverage is not what the post was about. I was pointing to the lack of stories on other murders as evidence that those lives are valued less by society. I believe your comment strengthens that assertion.

The German said...

We all start out equal. Where we end up is the product of our upbringing and adult decisions. When I talk about "worth", I don't mean money, status or anything material. Instead I believe it to be a measure of our relationships with others. It does not take money or favored status to leave others better for having known you. Do you help others or steal from them? Do you raise your children to be kind, or drive them to kill their rivals? Is our city better or worse without you?

It is up to each individual, regardless of circumstances, to make the correct decisions. That is our task. While we are created equal and are equal before the law, we will ultimately be judged based on our actions.

But I do agree that a large chuck of the culture of NO does not value life to any degree. While I would not kill anyone because I think poorly of them, some would kill over a perceived slight. And while I do think that some are of less worth, I don't think anyone deserves death.

When I talked about the "media's goal", I was talking about BELO or Tribune not individual reporters. So in this case, we agree... I think.

If you want to reduce the crime in NO, legalize drugs. That is the common denominator. As prohibition gave rise to the MOB, the war on drugs has fostered urban crime. But, hey, at least it keeps the "New Orleans brand" out there...

Red Deezy said...

This city will never change until we address the root problem of violence. No family structure, no jobs and Godlessness. Check out this video by RED DOG.www