Mixed Feelings About a Street Shrine

Columbus police fatally shot a 21-year-old man a month ago, about a hundred yards from where I live.  I was not home when this happened, and thankfully Susie was in Florida when it happened.  Apparently, the police came to serve arrest warrants on the guy, and he bolted from the house on N. 5th where they found him, and ran out to N. 4th, shooting at the police on the way.  They fired back at him, and he was dead at the scene.  Most troubling, this happened around dinnertime, when N. 4th St. is quite busy.  Across the street, elementary school-aged children were on the field at Weinland Park Elementary School, with football and cheerleading practices.

A picture of Weinland Park (with Weinland Park Elementary School in the background) that Steph took in November.

On my way home from work the next day, I glanced out the bus window and I saw an impromptu shrine at the site where he died.  Mylar balloons and flowers clustered around a foam rubber cross, and people had left cards and small stuffed animals.  (My first experience with these little street shrines was in Cincinnati, where I would occasionally see them set up at the site of fatal car accidents.)
I confess to some ambivalence when seeing this shrine–now dismantled, since the guy’s burial.  My first feelings were in no way charitable.  Why is anyone honoring this guy? I wondered.  According to the newspaper, his resumé included outstanding warrants for receiving stolen property, aggravated robbery, and illegally possessing a firearm.  The police were not coming to get him because of too many jaywalking tickets.  He pulled his weapon on the officers first.  This was not a case of a trigger-happy officer who fires on someone, only to find out the person had been reaching into his pocket for a cell phone or a pack of cigarettes.  Nor was this a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time while on his way to visit his bedridden grandfather.  (I thought of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street when Detective Frank Pemberton sees graffiti memorializing a thug who had died in an exchange of gunfire with police.  Pemberton looks at the graffiti with contempt, and proceeds to spit on the dead criminal’s name.)
But equally disturbing were some of the comments posted on the TV news Websites.  I looked at the video clips of the news coverage, and almost all of them thanked the police for saving the taxpayers money on trial and prison expenses.  The most brutal comment was “Cleanup on Aisle 5!!”  My normal reaction is to scroll past wisdom like this and say, “What an asshole!”, but I was caught up short by the first thought that ran through my head when I saw the shrine.
It takes effort, but I have to remember that this young man was someone’s son, maybe someone’s father.  I even try to remember John Donne’s words:
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

And that includes the death of this young man, or even the death of Osama bin Laden.
My feelings for police have been lukewarm at best for most of my adult life.  I never considered becoming a police officer, mainly because part of the job involved carrying a weapon.  (The only law enforcement job I ever seriously considered was Postal Inspector, but that too involves carrying a gun.  Weapons are deal-breakers for me, job-wise.)  As a teenager, I compiled a rather impressive portfolio of status offenses, but I was only arrested when I was in my 20s, arrested for disorderly conduct in Athens while I was a student at O.U.  When I appeared in Athens Municipal Court, I pleaded no contest.  I was quite under the influence when arrested that night.
That didn’t elevate my esteem of police, but I never embraced blind hatred of them.  When I lived in Cincinnati and habituated the Subway on West McMillan, the people behind the counter often played a compact disk of anarchist punk band Chumbawamba’s 1992 album Shhh, an album I enjoyed (and recently downloaded from Amazon.com) immensely.  One of the songs was “Happiness is Just a Chant Away.”  The last half of the song parodies the Hare Krishna mantra with the words “Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry.”  Harry Roberts was a British career criminal who killed three police officers, and soccer hooligans and rioters are fond of chanting his name, along with a charming little song “Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend.  Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers,” sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down.”
Discussion about Weinland Park crime seems to bring out the opposite of “the better angels of our nature” cited by Lincoln.  In this entry, which I posted in May, I described when a child, aged six or seven at the most, walked up to me for no reason and hit me with a closed fist, running away giggling to his friends who watched him from a street corner.  I described the incident on a message board on Columbus Underground, and I was appalled when one reader suggested I start carrying pepper spray or a Taser, and if it happens again, use them on the kid.  The debate about whether or not it was appropriate to Taser a six-year-old went on for days.
In this morning’s Columbus Dispatch, I read an article about the 1996 murder of the owner of the D&J Carryout, an eyesore and blight to Weinland Park located on the corner of N. 4th St. and E. 8th Ave.  The current owners have learned nothing from this legacy.  They allow the place to be used for drug deals, kids are loitering on its stoop each hour it’s open, and the owners turn a blind eye to the kids who attack pedestrians for their money and cell phones.  This Google Maps picture (enter “1395 N. 4th St., Columbus, Ohio 43201” in the search engine) accurately depicts the intersection, although the apartment building on the northwest corner has been razed since this was taken.  Do a 360-degree turnaround on the picture and see the disrepair of the buildings and properties.
I barely knew that the previous owner of the D&J was murdered.  When the murder happened in January 1996, Steph and I were living in a furnished one-bedroom apartment on Highland Ave., just south of the OSU campus, and planning our wedding.  (These were rather cramped quarters, since I rented the place fully intending it to be a bachelor apartment.)  I had no reason to be on that corner.  I came away much more informed once I finished reading this article.  Yet one of the comments posted on The Dispatch‘s Website doesn’t mention the senselessness of the murder, or the fact that it left a family without a husband and father.  All it said was, “He was probably another Muslim terrorist who could not speak English and paid no taxes.”  (The murdered owner of the D&J, Dib Yasin, was Palestinian, born in Jerusalem.)
Below is a video that I took last December, when the apartment building in the Google Maps shot was beginning to come down:
I guess gone are the days when tragedy brings out our nobler instincts.  I have lived almost a year in Weinland Park.  I was attracted at first by its cheap rent, and its proximity to the Really, Really Free Market and the Sporeprint Infoshop.  Careful readers of this blog will also recall that when Steph and I first realized ’tis time to part, we originally planned that Steph would have custody of Susie.  Now that I am raising Susie on my own, the urge to vamoose from this area takes precedence over many other things.  Gandhi often said the only tyrant before whom he bowed down was the “still small voice within me.”  The still small voice within me is saying to try and leave this neighborhood as soon as possible.