Trigger Warning: death, murder, shooting, and allusion to rape
There are two anecdotes essential to the understanding of this piece. The first is harder to write about it.
Six years ago since last month, my uncle went missing. I can’t express how many times I’ve said or written that sentence in some form and felt immediately heavy afterward. He was on a fishing trip that he never came back from. From the very start, there were complications with the police. First, it happened outside the parish where he resided and it was nearly impossible to get the two police departments to cooperate. Then, upon first visiting the crime scene, my parents found that police, locals living in the area, and even park rangers were acting suspiciously. It was around Easter time, and allegedly this meant that every police officer in the world was off, so instead of waiting at home to hear back from a search party, my parents and a handful of their friends went out or days on end on four wheelers searching for my uncle or his remains.
I even wrote letters to the governor, senators, and chiefs of police about the situation. I received a phone call from the police who had spoken to the governor and promised to put more effort into the search. Of course, this was as empty as every other reassurance my family received.
A year later, when we were finally going to get a canine unit to search, the dogs were instead used to search for a missing, young, blonde, beautiful white woman in the area without our prior knowledge. We later hired our own group of dogs, to no avail, because the police would not allow us to dig where the dog got a hit, even after proving that there were traces of human remains in the area.
There were countless injustices, the worst of which is that, six years later, my uncle’s sister, parents, and children have no answers as to his whereabouts, what happened to him, or even if he is alive. The two men who were with him on the trip have walked freely for the past few years, and so has everyone else involved in the suspected murder case, only one of whom has been interviewed by police in the last six years concerning the case.
This next story occurs more recently. A young boy in my area, now 21, shot at three high school students and killed one of them. The stories vary, but I am going to leave both sides–that of the shooting survivor as well as the shooter–out. Neither side matters. I was originally upset by this case when I heard, ten months ago, that the shooter (who will from now on be referred to as X) would be charged only with manslaughter, and would be sentenced to 13 months in jail, which he could dwindle down to six months at the most.
Today he walks free.
Let me start off by saying that this is not a piece on how much I despise X. It is not a piece about how I feel about the case or his freedom, though both will be discussed. This is a piece about how I grieve in tandem with the loved ones who survive the deceased (Y). This is a piece about the horrific way in which this case was handled. I personally don’t mind that the justice system was generous and modest in their punishment of X for a crime he committed at such. What I do mind is the way that it happened, and the disparity between this case and others.
Let us first acquire a brief profile on X: He is a young, white, upper-middle-class young male who played sports on a popular high school team. In fact, I went to school with him in high school. I went to school with him last year when he continued to attend classes in an effort to make a case for his character. I will continue to take classes with him in the fall when we both return to school.
He is exactly the kind of character that people protected during the Steubenville case. He fits exactly the profile of boys who get away, every single day, with crimes that others are lynched for. He represents the mass of people who America strives to protect because he represents the mass of people who control the justice system.
A 15-year-old boy died at his hand. He heard popping noises, went outside, and shot at the nearest truck to “scare” them. He was aiming for the headlights, but hit y in the back of the neck, left a hole in the side door, and injured the other passengers.
The fact of the matter is, you don’t shoot more than once when you aim to scare. You shoot once. You shoot up in the air. You yell and you curse and you get angry. X did none of this. He shot in the direction of the boys in the car, and, even after missing the headlights, continued to shoot.
But men and women rally around him. They cry for their beautiful son, who was so young, and so scared. They cry so hard for their beautiful son that they forget the other one.
It is y who I grieve for. Y and his family. After today, they will have to face the prospect of casually bumping into the man who killed their son in the grocery store. Or seeing him graduate alongside their other children and family. They risk going into a future accounting meeting and coming face to face with this boy. Not only is he free to walk about their community as if no life were ever lost, but he has the wholehearted support of those around him. Those who knew him not as the murderer of their child, but as an athlete, a young man with a future, and a white boy.
I will be awake night and day for the next few weeks thinking about my uncle and those same feelings that I have about his killer. I will be up, lamenting the grievous blindness from which my community suffers. My community, that, just a few months earlier, rallied together in support of the victims of a movie theater shooting. I am appalled. I write this not to point fingers at X, but to scream, once more, about the horrible injustices imposed upon his family. Upon my family. And upon the families of all those to come, who will have to watch the killer of their loved ones walk away.
I will be awake night and day for the rest of my life thinking about the justice system that I have no faith in, about the boys who lost their lives, and about the families who can not grieve in peace because their son is not one of the ones whom we protect. I will never be okay with this. I will be bitter for a long time. But at least I will never carry the ghost of a high school freshman boy on my guilty shoulders because I was careless with my toys.
I removed the names from this piece not to protect confidentiality from a public case, but rather to eliminate any bias from readers until the end. If you would like to know more about the case, click here. If you want information about my uncle, who is still missing, click here.