Commentary

Saunders: Seeing the victims of crime can send a powerful message

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2013 

No one can blame them for not doing it, and it’s understandable why they didn’t do it.

Still, it would’ve sent a powerful message if one of them had.

If just one Newtown, Conn., parent had held an open-casket funeral for their murdered child, I’m guessing the momentum in the debate over gun-control legislation would be trending differently right now.

As it is, though, the memories of the shootings and their emotional impact seem to be receding from the national psyche like waves on the beach, allowing some elected officials to wuss out, lest they run afoul of the NRA’s leadership.

For the kids, indeed.

The mental image of a 6-year-old child shredded by bullets from Adam Lanza’s mama’s Bushmaster .223 would not be so easily washed away, and lawmakers might feel more fortified in standing up against the powerful lobbying group.

Emmett Till’s mama

Speaking of mamas, Mamie Till-Mobley knew 57 years ago the power of such an image. Mobley was Emmett Till’s mama, and as parents up North and in the Midwest are still wont to do, she sent him from Chicago to Mississippi to spend the summer with his country relations.

The 14-year-old boy was kidnapped in August 1955 from his great-uncle’s home, savagely beaten and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His crime: he’d supposedly whistled at a white woman.

Till-Mobley’s memoir, completed in 2003 just before she died, was called “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.”

It’s doubtful her son’s death, which received international attention, would have changed anything had Till-Mobley acquiesced to the undertaker and closed the casket lid. See, most people’s knowledge of what a mutilated body looks like comes from Hollywood, all neat and sanitized. Thousands upon thousands of people streamed past and saw the disfigured teen lying in his casket at a Chicago funeral home, while millions have likely seen it since in books.

Why’d she do it? Till-Mobley explained, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.”

It did see, and if that image doesn’t touch you, your soul needs fixing.

Memory of a shooting

As a cop reporter in Gary, Ind., 20 years ago, I covered countless homicides and attempted homicides. One, a poolroom shooting involving two teens, stands out. The two dudes had been arguing, the proprietor told me – I swear this is what he said – over who was stronger and could lift the most weights.

One fellow proved he was at least strong enough to go home, get a shotgun, come back and shoot his 18-year-old pal in the chest. By the time I arrived, the victim was twitching, and you could actually see blood pumping from his body.

He survived the shooting. I always figured he was too stupid to die and his buddy too stupid to catch a murder rap. Seeing a big, dumb kid who reminded me of me stretched out and soaked in his own blood, though, made me go home, call up my buddy Ivan, and tell him to come and take away the gun he’d purchased for me months earlier.

It would be Pollyannaish to think that just seeing what those bullets did to a bunch of innocent first-graders would make us en masse turn in our guns and study killing no more.

Some of us might, though, be inclined to ask just why a civilian needs a weapon that can fire that many rounds so quickly, and do that kind of damage to a body.

Like I said, I understand why the Newtown parents didn’t do it. Still, it would’ve sent a powerful message if one of them had.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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