I saw Papa Jack (not his real moniker) on TV the other night. He was standing in front of Children’s Hospital in Oakland at a press conference, looking dapper as usual. There’s a long list of places I don’t want to be and Children’s Hospital is on that list. I already visited Children’s Hospital, sans press conference. Earlier this year my grandson was rushed there after suffering seizures due to high fever. He was eventually released complication free but I hope I never go back. Papa Jack was standing in the background while the father of 23 month old Hiram Lawrence Jr. explained to the press that although his son was shot in the head during a shooting his boy and his faith was strong.
I know Papa Jack from bible study class. Papa Jack is a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s. The “papa” designation comes a bit earlier in the black community these days. He’s a man of faith without complication, unlike myself. He’s a smart dresser, always quick with a laugh or hello, warmly approachable and direct without offense. Now his grandson was on life support.
This particular shooting was much publicized because it had all the elements TV news can’t resist. Grainy nighttime footage of the shooters in action, random nuttiness, a baby victim, a rapper’s painted marketing van shot up at the scene and local media’s favorite crime canvass, Oakland. This is not the first time a member of our congregation has had their faith tested in the most unimaginable way. Over the summer a young mother lost her son in a shooting, a deacon’s nephew was shot and killed a few weeks back and if I were closer to the church I’m sure I could come up with a few more. And that’s only this year.
When I hear of a hedge fund manager going to jail for five or ten years I don’t feel much sympathy for him or her (when will women start pillaging our financial system? Or are they different?). I don’t have empathy for the children suffering behind the gated mansion or the difficult adjustment his wife will have getting by on 50 or 60 million after lawyer fees and fines. I just don’t care. I think when the grandchildren and children of the Papa Jack’s of the world are gunned down, poorly educated, polluted and pissed on most people who don’t know people like Papa Jack just don’t care. I understand the moral equivalency doesn’t quite work but what is true is I don’t feel bad for the problems the of privileged. I don’t think they feel much for me to people like me either. Is there something wrong with that?
I don’t have some pompous pious answer to this one. I just think there was a time where we all cared about each other much more. If anyone can tell me how we got from there to here, please let me know. Unless you just don’t care.
Postscript: Hiram Lawrence Jr. was taken off life support Friday, December 9th, 2011.
Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.