It was back in the spring of 1999, maybe a week or so after the shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. I was with a friend at the restaurant Pier 4 in Boston, to attend an event at which former Secretary of the Navy, Jim Webb, was speaking, and which he would also sign copies of his new novel, The Emperor’s General.
Jim Webb is what you call as standup as standup can be: accomplished, honorable, courageous, and very smart. I admire him tremendously. At the time of the event at Pier 4, his career was that of a successful filmmaker and author. He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and had gone on to the Marine Corps, and on to Vietnam where he became a highly decorated combat leader.
Today, Jim Webb is a U.S. Senator from Virginia.
At Pier 4, Webb spoke to a big crowd prior to signing books. He was asked about Columbine – and I remember him calling the event “clearly horrific,” and also, and this is the gist of his comments, he said that he had other thoughts and opinions on what happened, but he chose not to express them at that time.
Jim Webb’s reserve and tact and responsible position in response to the Columbine question are instructive for all of us.
And this guidance is helpful when we think about two national events, one of which is directly tied to and has roots in Easton, that have enflamed public and private discourse – and which have the potential to foment into dangerous societal unrest.
Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr., 20, an graduate, and football player at Pace University, was shot and killed by a policeman, Aaron Hess, in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, outside a sports bar in the Westchester County, NY village of Pleasantville, which is a little more than 30 miles from New York City.
Henry was behind the wheel of a car when he was shot. In the passenger seat next to him was his good friend, Brandon Cox, 20, also an OA graduate and football player for . Cox and Henry were teammates on the OA football team. Cox received a graze wound from one of the bullets Officer Hess fired.
The day prior to the shooting, Stonehill had played a game at Pace.
On the evening of February 26, this year, last month, in a gated community in the Florida city of Sanford, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by 28-year-old, George Zimmerman, who was a volunteer in the community as an unofficial security guard and monitor.
Danroy Henry and Trayvon Martin are black.
Aaron Hess is white. George Zimmerman is biracial, white and Hispanic. Both men said they shot in self-defense.
A grand jury cleared Officer Hess of wrongdoing. George Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime – although he still may be.
The deaths of Danroy Henry and Trayvon Martin have occasioned wholly justified anger and calls for an investigation and a finding of facts.
But let us remember and be advised – and young people take this as an early lesson you need to learn well and embrace – is that not only do actions have consequences, but so too do words.
Last week I was listening to the radio show of Michael Graham; it’s on the Boston FM station 96.9 WTKK. He was talking about the Trayvon Martin case.
Now I need to say that I am fairly conservative, and I agree with much of what Michael Graham says on the air. But I felt that on this day he was being particularly incendiary and blasé about the shooting. It was almost as if Graham was certain that from what we know it was appropriate that Zimmerman not be charged.
Well, okay … from what we know … but there is still so much we don’t know about what happened. And, while, sure, it is entirely possible that George Zimmerman justifiably shot Trayvon Martin – there are just so many questions that remain – and therefore it is irresponsible and immature - but totally his right - for Michael Graham to take the position he did and talk in such a smug way about it on the radio.
As well, we can ask questions in measured and thoughtful way – and I know this can be very difficult to do – and not tether this inquiry to a call for violence, which some are doing.
Whether or not George Zimmerman was a vigilante – it is filthy, and it is infinitely dangerous, to call for vigilantism in response to Zimmerman pulling that trigger and killing Trayvon Martin.
Race baiters exploiting tragedy is repugnant all around.
A super op-ed ran two days ago in the Wall Street Journal; it was authored by Juan Williams, a gifted and accomplished journalist and social commentator who, yes, is of African descent. Mr. Williams put things in perspective in his op-ed; here is a link to his piece: The Trayvon Martin Tragedies
And now let’s go back to October 17, 2010, in Pleasantville, NY. I don’t know all of what happened on that morning. I can’t begin to know the pain and anguish that Danroy Henry’s family feels.
I didn’t know Danroy Henry, and I don’t know his family. From what I understand, Danroy Henry was good kid, and his family are good people. I’ve heard very good things about the Henrys.
For sure, you can do all the research you want, and you will find that the Henry family is a class and virtuous act only seeking truth and justice.
It is possible that Danroy Henry believed he was doing nothing wrong, at the same time that Officer Aaron Hess thought he was responding appropriately? I suppose. Yes, it is possible.
But, again, words have consequences – and so too do actions.
Without making a judgment on whether Officer Hess’s pulling the trigger that morning was right, wrong, or somewhere in between, I think it was an unnecessary slap in the face to the Henry family when not even a year after this tragedy went down – and I don’t care where you stand on this event, it was a tragedy – the Police Benevolent Association of Pleasantville named Officer Hess as its “Officer of the Year.”
I mean, really.
Even if you thought without reservation that Officer Hess deserved this recognition, don’t you think that it might be best, might be most right, to save off bestowing this honor for another year or two?
I throw down this criticism believing that there are few people more valuable and worthy of our respect in society than good, hardworking, and honest police officers.
It is all percolating now – all bubbling in our social conscience – what happened on February 26th.
And, we think back and try to make sense of what happened on Oct. 17 in 2010.
So I besiege everyone to think - to think deeply and thoroughly - about what happened, and about what we don’t know – and what we do know, and what we hope to understand.
As ever, now, we need to reflect and figure on ways to appreciate and know and get to the truth – and to reserve our expressed judgment until – if this is possible – we comprehensively can get a hold of what happened.
For, as always – as always in the past, as will always be in the future –we can only make responsible and helpful commentary when combining the broad perspective of history with the most honest hopes for people to perform at their best – and to treat one another with respect, love, and dignity.