Barry Saunders

A senseless death that affects us all – and it should

7-year-old Kamari Munerlyn, who died after shots were fired into the SUV that he was a passenger in as it drove on Hillandale Road in Durham on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
7-year-old Kamari Munerlyn, who died after shots were fired into the SUV that he was a passenger in as it drove on Hillandale Road in Durham on Sunday, June 4, 2017. Submitted photo

My former colleague Dennis Rogers has a book out called “It’s Bad News When the Bartender Cries.”

My next book might be called “It’s #$%ed Up as #*^$ When the Cop Cries.”

If you looked on The News & Observer’s website Sunday and Monday, you saw that moving photograph of officers trying to console one of their own who’d responded to the scene on Guess Road where something really bad had just occurred. A 7-year-old child lay mortally wounded by gunfire from a passing car. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, despite efforts at CPR by a cop who arrived at the scene within minutes, Durham police chief C.J. Davis said in a news conference Monday.

Video: Durham Chief of Police Cerelyn "C.J." Davis gives a statement containing information from eye witnesses to the recent shooting of a 7-year-old boy during a press conference on Monday June 5, 2017, in Durham, NC.

Homicides are as American as Cheez Whiz. More than 13,000 people were homicide victims in 2015, according to FBI statistics, so it’s not like most of us haven’t at least driven past that yellow crime scene tape at some point.

The psychic trauma on us as so-called civilized people is probably worse, though – should be worse – when the victim is a child, such as 7-year-old Kamari Munerlyn, riding in the back of an SUV after going swimming on a Sunday afternoon. In the SUV with Kamari were five adults and four other children, ages 2 to 12.

Next to a young, innocent life being snuffed out so wantonly, do you know what’s most disturbing about the incident?

That it doesn’t seem that disturbing to everyone.

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Durham police officers, from left, B. Taylor, B. Johnson and R. Preston console each other Sunday, June 4, 2017 at the shooting scene on Hillandale Road in Durham. 7-year-old Kamari Munerlyn died from a gunshot wound. Julian Harrison

Perhaps it’s just me, but I found it obscene that life, within minutes of the crime scene tape being removed Sunday and the cops splitting, had reverted to normal in that section of Durham. The world, at least that part of it, should sit up and take note when a 7-year-old gets shot to death.

Attention should – no, must – be paid.

I drove the route Sunday evening from Peppertree Street, where police said the shooting occurred, to where the SUV stopped at the corner of Carver Street and Guess Road. I replicated the one-and-a-half mile route the driver took trying to get to Durham Regional Hospital, but was unable to replicate the terror of those inside when they discovered that a bullet-flattened tire would let them go no farther, when they discovered that Kamari wasn’t going to make it to the hospital – wasn’t, indeed, going to make it.

What did I expect to see, driving out there after everything had been cleared away – angels on the side of the road, holding their heads in despair, weeping over the vileness of what had just occurred?

Precisely. Yet, people went on about their business, oblivious.

In nearly 40 years in this business, I’ve covered scores of homicides, sometimes getting to the scene before police because I had a police scanner or because the crime occurred next door to the crib. As a cop reporter in a city that led the nation in per capita homicides every year I was there, seeing dead bodies soon became, I’m sad to admit, unremarkable. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.

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Barry Saunders Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

I also quickly got to the point where I knew that not much bothers cops, at least not so’s you could tell.

I once walked past three police officers and into a house in which three very dead bodies lay sprawled in grotesque final repose throughout the living room.

I staggered out immediately, trying to keep down my dinner.

Damn, man, I said to the cop in charge, why’d you let me go in there?

“I thought you wanted to go in,” he said, continuing to chat with his colleagues, barely looking up. Their cavalier manner, the joking and laughing, were incongruous with the sight I’d walked in on. One would have never guessed that three lives had recently been ended violently on the other side of the door from where the police stood gabbing.

That’s no reflection on those officers, on their sensitivity. One eventually realizes, if you’re the least bit perceptive, that most cops’ outward indifference, the gallows humor, even, is just a protective defense mechanism employed by people who’ve seen too much of humanity’s dark side and don’t want to let it infect them.

Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis marched solemnly into Monday’s news conference, with two high-ranking officers in front of her and two in back. Former chief Steve Chalmers was there, too, to volunteer his services because of the heinous nature of this crime, he said later.

Chief Davis didn’t take questions, but immediately got to the heart of the matter. They were gathered, she said, to “investigate yet another senseless act of violence.”

 

Mayor Bill Bell used that exact phrase when I spoke with him about Kamari’s death. The mayor, usually so cool, was irate.

You know what? It’s all right if cops don’t let their emotions show. It’s all right if they do, too.

This is the question we must ask ourselves, though: do we want to live in a world where a 7-year-old child’s murder doesn’t affect us, doesn’t make us cry, doesn’t make us question just what is going on?

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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