There were two deaths this week in the greater Springfield area involving young men of approximately the same age but from markedly different places. Apart from their age they had in common a love of football. They died three days apart in time, 10 miles apart in distance, both in ways not totally disconnected from where they were, but very connected to who they were in terms of behavior.
The first took place in the community where I teach, Suffield, Connecticut, while teachers at the high school were doing some GoogleDocs training to close out the year. We saw a fire truck in the parking lot and some more inquisitive teachers learned that there had been a serious ATV accident and that a young man, not a Suffield resident, was being helicoptered to a nearby hospital.
As it turns out I had taught with the young man’s father during the seven years I had taught in Ellington, Connecticut, and I realized that I had probably applauded this now dead man’s birth at its announcement in a faculty meeting. He had died riding in to get some lunch after spending the morning working on a family member’s farm. Just a day or two later another boy was to die while riding an ATV in another suburban Connecticut community. It turns out that over 700 people die every year while riding ATV’s in the United States and that they are also responsible for over 150,000 injuries serious enough to require emergency room visits. Who knew? Those numbers, by the way, are not included in NHTSA’s overall traffic fatality statistics.
The second death involved a young man in Springfield who was shot outside a gas station at 1:45 on a Friday morning. He was shot multiple times. Fewer than 48 hours have passed since the murder took place and no suspects have been named as of this writing. In an interview with the young man’s former football coach these are some comments made about the young man and his circumstances:
-“He felt that if he could just get out of Springfield, get to college and start over, he would be OK,”
“Daniels, he said, was basically a good kid”
He (the coach) quickly added that he fears every kid he has ever coached and every teen he knows will be a victim of violent crime.
“You could be walking to school, walking home from school or walking to the store, and it could happen,” he said.
That is not cynicism, but reality, he said.-
But it isn’t. There is a pattern to these deaths. They are not randomly distributed throughout the population of young people in the city. I NEVER feared that my children would be victims of violent crimes as they walked to and from Commerce High School. Not they nor any of their friends were ever just “walking to the store” at 2 o’clock in the morning either. And they chose not to associate with people who attempt to resolve problems with violence. My family and I have lived, worked, gone to school, and gone about our daily lives in the center of this city in a neighborhood known for its “dangerousness”, and not one of us even knows anyone who has ever been shot, been shot at, or been accused of shooting anyone else.
This coach’s own words reveal the truth about this young man whose death is undeniably a tragedy. He was “basically” a good kid. As an adult who was still at least a year from finishing his high school education he was already needing a chance to “start over.” A reluctance to speak ill of the dead, and a desire to avoid blaming the victim is clearly having an impact on the part of the narrative we are hearing.
Being in Suffield isn’t particularly dangerous, but riding an ATV is. A young man working on the family farm during his summer break does not “deserve to die”, but certain behaviors are risky. Working on a farm is risky, riding an ATV is risky. I was in Suffield when this poor young man was fatally injured, but I was not at risk in the same way he was.
Being in Springfield isn’t particularly dangerous, but being out on the street at 1:45 a.m. and “basically” being involved with people connected to gangs or drugs is risky behavior. It is true that, unlike the story in Suffield, we don’t yet have all the facts, and I am completely willing to acknowledge my error if it turns out this young man was just buying gas or a soda and was randomly selected for death. I think that time will reveal that he was targeted for relationships and behaviors which he chose to enter into and engage in. It doesn’t mean that he deserved to die, but I was in Springfield at 1:45 on Friday morning, and I was not at risk in the same way this young man was, and I am certain that there were many thousands upon thousands of teens in this city who could say the exact same thing.