I’ve attended two funerals in the last month. The method of death for both was murder. To be sure, both were unspeakable tragedies.
Equal justice isn’t automatic
The murder of Ferguson activist Darren Seals made national news last fall and remains unsolved today. I attended Darren’s funeral at Greater St. Mark’s Church, an activist sanctuary with which I became familiar in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing. As I sat among friends I met protesting, I felt the collective grief as family members and friends gave moving tributes to their fallen brother, son, and comrade. An unmistakable cloud of anger hung in the air as we looked around, wondering if Darren’s murderer was among us. We knew undercover homicide detectives were in our midst, but were unsure of their intent.
Not all murder is created equal
The folks around me at Darren’s funeral grieved him on multiple levels. The community despair created a different kind of grief. It’s impossible to attend the funeral of a murdered person’s funeral without grieving the senselessness of it. The pointless deaths of so many young black women and men sickens the stomach. Uninhibited emotion erupted from those sitting in groups with Darren’s face freshly silk screened on t-shirts, emblazoned with “Gone, but not forgotten”. Clusters of the R.I.P. shirts commemorating Darren throughout the packed church resembled sports team jerseys, signifying solidarity for Team Darren. The memory t-shirts were as rare as violence in white, wealthy neighborhoods. The shirts also underscored the anonymity of brutality, so relentlessly commonplace, in poor, urban spaces.
Detectives no doubt attended the funeral of Molly Matheson, beloved daughter of a dear college friend, too. I looked around at the mostly white, affluent mourners, many of whom I’d known for decades. Several held tissues to their noses to suppress their tears. Beautiful flower arrangements in the church altar flanked photo posters of the even more beautiful Molly, who I never got a chance to meet. The outrage over Molly’s murder was muted by the assumption, the understanding, police were doing their best to investigate her murder. There is a hope, at least, that Molly’s murderer may be held to account.
Trust in the system such as this is a privilege not shared equally.
To their immense credit, relatives and friends retold precious stories of Molly’s wit and grace devoid of palpable anger. While they no doubt raged against Molly’s killer-at-large, they didn’t direct any ire against the system. The community came together as one to mourn Molly’s death and uphold her family. Moral anger didn’t even need be spoken. No one doubted Molly didn’t deserve what happened to her. I don’t have to peruse online news of Molly’s death to know no one is making racist &/or victim shaming comments about her lifestyle choices. White people don’t need t-shirts to make sure society remembers their children’s violent death. White children don’t have to die under the exact right circumstances to elicit national mourning.
The community grieved Darren’s death not only for him, but as another killing in a non-stop procession of violence in their neighborhood. We should afford the families of every slain beloved victim the same level of moral outrage, investigative resources and meted out justice. Molly and Darren died wanting it that way.