Is the public showing more concern about gun violence since the shooting death of Molly Conley? The Bishop Blanchet High School freshman’s death has garnered a lot of attention, although police officials appear to be taking pains to avoid seeming to care more about a young, white student’s death than the other victims who’ve died because of gun violence. How did Conley become the latest drive-by shooting victim when she was doing nothing more than celebrating her 15th birthday with a late-night walk with friends along a residential road in quiet Lake Stevens? The public wants to know. They want to know not just to have a face, or faces, to blame but to help explain what appears to many as an aberration in the normal ebb and flow of violent crime.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office is searching for leads and witnesses. It is fine to question who would harm the Magnolia teen. By all means, demand a thorough investigation and her killer, or killers, brought to justice. But I caution against obsessing about one shooting without asking the bigger questions posed by a growing body count from gun violence in and around Seattle. Be horrified, angry and frightened by Conley’s seemingly senseless shooting. But add her name to the growing list of victims cut down by easy access to guns and a willingness by some to turn guns on each other. None of it makes sense to me.
Folding Conley’s tragic death into the bigger picture requires that we look at all the victims of gun violence as individual tragedies. Every one of them. Even the ones dismissed as cases of living and dying by the proverbial sword.
Conley’s death requires that we peer into that parallel universe invoked by Times columnist Danny Westneat in a widely-read piece about growing gang violence in Seattle. Westneat’s timing could not have been better. A Seattle Times article recently noted rising tensions between violent gangs in the Central District. The story’s scariest moment unfolded in the beginning as two rival gang members met at a McDonald’s, shook hands and appeared to usher in a moment of urban detente that ended when one shot the other minutes later near a busy intersection. The Seattle Police Department’s Gang Unit is aware of the escalating tensions between rival gangs. Still, the tensions should make all of us nervous, CD residents or not.
That would require us to look over into that parallel city, the one Westneat describes as our mind’s way of compartmentalizing violence, and justifying our concern, or lack thereof. We are content to ignore the war zone until a stray bullet shatters our bubble. Some don’t see the problem. A commenter responding to Westneat’s column asked if we should care as much about shooting deaths that occur when one “gangbanger” kills another. The answer is yes.
The lost potential of the young boys and girls, many African American, who could have grown up to be lawyers, doctors and loving parents is as grievous as the lost potential of Molly Conley. I am heartsick by the premature death of potential. The choices we make, or that are made for us by extenuating circumstances such as poverty or a lack of opportunity, are secondary. In the end, gone is gone.