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Echoes of violence

November 28th, 2010

A follow-up to Friday night’s post, “Death in the Quarter“:

The NOPD has released some info on the suspects in the murder of Earl Wheeler. If you follow this link, you will see some of the surveillance images from the security camera at Krystal on Bourbon Street. Fox8 has some pictures, too.

These criminal geniuses left quite a trail behind. They were spotted on cameras at the IHOP and the Athlete’s Foot, as well. Their getaway was also captured on camera as they made an illegal turn.

The effects of Mr. Wheeler’s killing are evident in a video on the Fox8 site (click here and then on the “Workers mourn…” link to start the video).

There are murders all the time in New Orleans; few of them have moved as many people as Mr. Wheeler’s. He was young and hard-working, a contributor instead of a taker. He labored in an industry that keeps this city afloat. In the aftermath of past high-profile killings, some have wondered why the murders of so many other young men do not garner the same attention.

It’s a fair question. We’ve seen it many times: another young, African-American man gunned down on a dark street corner in Central City or the Lower Ninth gets a headline in the T-P, but nobody really seems to care. Maybe there’s some racism involved, maybe there’s a feeling that criminals shooting supposed criminals is a win-win. Maybe it’s the old “Thank God it wasn’t me!” syndrome. In any event, the death of a guy who had a criminal record, ran with a gang, or had some thuggish tendencies just doesn’t get everyone upset.

We should get upset. All of our moral codes teach that each life has value. It may not be apparent, but even a man steeped in street crime can turn his life around and be a force for good. Besides, it is in the culture that enables the numerous shootings of the unmourned that the murders of the Earl Wheelers of this city have their roots.

Each time some teenager is shot over some triviality, it breeds new hate and makes more violence easier. The suspects in Mr. Wheeler’s murder did not awaken on Thanksgiving Day and decide to shoot a popular bartender; but their coarse lives and their culture of quick, nonchalant violence made it simple to pull the trigger when confronted.

We feel terrible about Mr. Wheeler’s untimely death; we should feel just as bad that right now, in the neighborhoods of New Orleans, other young men are being taught that a bullet is the answer to life’s little problems. These men have seen friends and family die on dark sidewalks far from the lights of Canal Street without the public’s caring.

If we’re apathetic now about the facts of life in the more sinister areas of New Orleans, if we chalk up the deaths of anonymous young men to karma, if we really don’t mind if some punk get capped for dissing another punk, we miss the point.

Every murder is intrinsically evil, because of both the ending of a life and the further violence it makes possible. Every shooting and stabbing reverberates until its echoes reach our homes and families, often far from those neighborhoods we’re taught to avoid.

Those echoes sounded all the way down to Canal Street early Friday morning and left a promising young man to die. We will hear them again.

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