[EDIT: A slightly-revised version of this post appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday edition on Sept. 15. Below is the original version].
I keep wondering why more folk in the general public don’t appear to care all too much that two young aboriginal men were brutally cut down in the prime of their lives, killed brutally inside a shabby suite in a West End multiplex.
Yes, Dennis Baptiste and Jessie Henderson were members of a feared and loathed Winnipeg street gang, the Mad Cowz.
But for many young aboriginal men in a city where baby-faced teens somehow can get their hands on a .357 Magnum and carry it about with seeming impunity to kill over ridiculous notions of revenge, gang membership or association is to people in some particular circumstances, more akin to a Scouts club or after-school sports program might be for semi-affluent kids who live in Winnipeg’s sprawling suburbs.
And therein lies the rub of it. Our ability to look the other way or shrug our shoulders at the deaths of these men speaks to a fundamentally larger problem our society suffers from.
That being: a shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more. That’s my gut feeling. And I trust my gut.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” one person replied to me on Twitter tonight when I expressed my angst on this topic.
“I celebrate every time one or more of these drug dealer/gangsters gets snuffed,” said another.
Bullshit, I say to them here in reply. These are the answers of cowards.
Dismiss out of hand what you refuse to even try to understand.
Eye for an eye is an exercise in mental gymnastics which will take us nowhere.
Regardless of anything: These two 23-year-old were living, breathing people, goddammit. For example: Baptiste had two young children. He had a long-time partner who cared about him. He lived, he breathed.
And dear God, how he bled.
I never met either of these men. And I’m pretty much sure they would have spat on me — or at least eyed me with extreme suspicion — if I had ever had the courage to walk up and say hello.
That’s not the point. The point is that between my cowardice and what I assume would be their disdain are symptoms of a sickness.
Just as street gangs are symptoms of a larger sickness still — a generational, trickle-down illness of poverty, rampant unfairness, inequality and racism.
I deplore senseless violence. I detest gangs and their uber-profitable, miserable businesses of drug-and-human trafficking, just to name two of the major income streams.
But to the degree an outsider can, I understand why the gangs exist and how they persist. And I know we don’t (or is it can’t or won’t?) do nearly enough as a society to be able to convince gang members to want to get out, that something better is waiting on the other side.
I find it very, very difficult to simply say, ‘meh‘ to a life cut senselessly, brutally, criminally short.
But that’s what I see happening when it comes to the overall public reaction to the murder trial — a process trying to find some justice for Henderson and Baptiste.
Media coverage, aside from the daily newspapers, has been scant, despite wide-spread coverage of their deaths when they were discovered.
It makes no sense to me how there’s little follow-through.
But I won’t get too deep into that, because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. This brings me to what I wanted to point out. My appreciation.
I don’t know if the Winnipeg police have it right in charging Ken Roulette – reportedly a friend of these men — with the deaths.
There are things about this case I’ve seen so far that don’t quite add up to me, at least just yet.
But in the end, it’s not up to me, or you, to decide. In this way, we’re just observers to the work six men and six women are now charged with doing.
But what I do know is that homicide investigators and the two seasoned Crown prosecutors now putting in the case didn’t have the choice of saying, ‘Meh,’ and shrugging their shoulders when called on to try and bring some resolution to this awful matter.
What I do know is that two of Winnipeg’s best defence lawyers don’t appear to be conceding one inch of territory to their state adversaries — another hallmark of criminal-legal seriousness. The stakes are huge here.
There’s an aura to the proceedings as a whole which I can only describe as spine-tingling. It hangs over the courtroom like a pregnant dark cloud.
To me, it’s right and just that this feeling persists. The awfulness of what happened here can’t be brushed aside, despite my fear it will.
Ask yourself this. If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St. Vital who were killed in this fashion — what would the interest be then?