Friday, March 26, 2010

Murder on a Quiet Block in Midwood, Brooklyn

I had seen it before. Flowers and teddy bears, along with candles. It was a somber memorial to a young man who had been shot dead by a friend in a financial dispute. He had graduated from high school a few months earlier. He had started a new job at a supermarket. He wanted to go to college. He was a young man, full of dreams. He was quiet and well liked. His family had every reason to hope that he would have a bright future. And now they must bury a son.

In my neighbourhood, his death would not have stood out. There are too many murals, clusters of candles and cars with a memorial notation on the rear window with the dates of birth and of death far too close together. Occasionally, the deceased is someone who had driven others to tears and despair reaping what he sowed. Far too often, there seems to be no justice and no sense behind the colourful murals frozen in a happy moment in a short life.

Gavin Torres stood out when he was shot dead in the street. Because he died not in Bed Stuy or Brownsville but on Avenue J and East 12th Street, an area where the Angel of Death knocks politely at the doors of well kept homes instead of hawking his services loudly in busy streets.

The corner where Torres died is normally peaceful. Pakistanis dress as they do in their homeland and go to their little stores and to the local mosques. Orthodox Jews live in the same space with stores and houses of worship that reflect their long standing presence. Whatever happens elsewhere in the world, there is no hatred between Jew and Muslim here. Both mark the new day at sunset and approach the societal mainstream with friendly yet cautious reserve.

Police made an immediate arrest in the death of Gavin Torres. A young man named Julio Iglesias has been charged with his murder. Few people on Avenue J would note the oddity of an accused murderer having the same name as a mega pop star. There are Spanish speaking people living in Flatbush. Many work in the stores and in construction. But the awnings and signs in front of the stores do not yet reflect their presence..

The memorial on the street attracts attention from most of the passers by. This is a good neighbourhood. Death does not hawk his wares from a folding table on the street. Sidewalk shootings are a rarity.

Years ago, I remember a killing in Willaimsburg. A Hassidic Jew bled to death in the street. The Chevra Kadisha, (the burial society) came to the scene. They did not wash the sidewalk clean of his blood. They brought a jackhammer to the scene and took the spattered blood along with the pavement and buried it in a Jewish cemetery. For a good while afterward, there was a hole in the street where a man's blood had fallen.

I wish that every murder scene were treated like the one in Williamsburg. There should be a hole in the street or in the floor wherever there has been a murder. The hole in the street should match the hole in the grieving heart of a mother and father who must carry to their grave the unnatural grief of burying a child.

Let those who forget the death of a human being, nurtured to maturity and reduced to rotting flesh step around a hole in the pavement . Let them drive up to a hole in the street and come to a stop. And let those who are inconvenienced by a broken stride or an unwanted lane change reflect upon a life that has been lost.

I went for a walk in my neighbourhood and counted the places where murdered men and women had fallen. The streets looked peaceful. The deaths had faded from collective memory. Perhaps a loved one still detours in silence to avoid reminders of loss. The rest of us walk by without a thought.

Gavin, I did not know you. It pains me to think of the sadness in your home. When I see the flowers, the candles and the teddy bear where you were killed, I see a hole in the street. I see a hole in the aching hearts of those who knew you.

I have seen the words on murals. I have seen them on street memorials. And now that words escape me I must say, "Rest in Peace". May G-d console your parents and family.

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