Jayne: A lot of big issues with no simple answers, only pain

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Well, I've put it off about as long as I can.

Wrote all the week's editorials. Selected all the editorial cartoons. Edited all the opinion columns. Finished all my duties as Opinion editor except for one — writing my column.

Maybe it's because I was hoping that a less-complicated topic would come along. More likely it's because the senseless killing of a college baseball player in Oklahoma is so difficult to write about.

You've read about it by now. About how Australia native Christopher Lane was gunned down by three teenagers — two of them black — as he went for a jog. About how one of the perpetrators supposedly told investigators that they were bored and just wanted to kill somebody.

The difficulty in writing about the case doesn't come from a difficulty in condemning the killing; that part is easy. No, the difficulty comes because it touches upon so many things that we are unable to talk rationally about in this country. Race. Violence. Gun control.

One of the overriding themes of the week has been the question of why Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and President Obama haven't spoken out about the slaying (Jackson did issue a tepid message on Twitter). They were, after all, quick to judge George Zimmerman's killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

To start with, Sharpton and Jackson strike me as shameless opportunists and race-baiters. Frankly, the fact they haven't led marches to condemn this killing is sharply irrelevant. Pointing out their hypocrisy is neither a wise use of our time nor a meaningful advancement of the discussion.

As for President Obama, he didn't speak about the Trayvon Martin case until a month after the killing — before Zimmerman had been arrested — and then again following Zimmerman's acquittal. His silence thus far doesn't mitigate the horrific nature of Lane's death, nor would his words.

Personally, I think we would be better off if we focused on the nature and the causes of the crime rather than the aftermath. And that leads to more difficulty.

It is impossible, under any conceivable scenario, to find a reason or a justification for the event. All too often, we find ourselves searching for explanations that go beyond the simple fact that there is evil in the world. Sometimes, evil is the only explanation, and evil defies rational thought.

Consider the killing in Spokane last week of Delbert Belton, an 88-year-old World War II veteran who was simply sitting in a car in a parking lot before being beaten to death, allegedly by two black youths. Will there ever be an explanation that makes any sense? Of course not.

Permeated by violence

We live in a country permeated by violence, and that violence crosses racial lines. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." While we often remain far from living up to King's vision, let this be one occasion in which we heed those words. Let the killers in Oklahoma and Spokane be judged by the content of their character; let the same be done for those who miserably failed in raising them.

I think we have an inkling as to what will be revealed when that character is exposed to the light of day. I think we know, deep down, that such character is the real issue in these cases.

Some leaders in Lane's homeland have criticized the gun culture of the United States, urging Australians to boycott our country. Some of that criticism is warranted; U.S. lawmakers' quick dismissal of expanded background checks for gun purchases earlier this year was indefensible. On the other hand, the Oklahoma killers thought nothing of randomly shooting somebody in the back; it's unlikely that additional gun laws would have made them think twice.

All of which leaves us with nothing more than two innocent men who have been slain. There are no rational explanations, no easy solutions. And that's what makes it so difficult to write about.