BOSTON — Lining up alongside my fellow jurors in the hallway of a Boston courthouse several weeks ago, heart desperately attempting to beat a path out of my chest, there was nothing in the world I would have rather done than send Rakeem Young home to his family for the Fourth of July.
Sadly, burdens of conscience would not allow it to be so, this Independence Day or any other. Over the course of six days I, along with eleven other jurors, concluded that this 24-year-old Dorchester man had fired several bullets into a parked car at the Orchard Park housing project late one June evening in 2004, killing 19-year-old Cassim Weaver and wounding Darrell Williams in retaliation for a vicious beating he had endured earlier in the evening, which apparently neither victim was involved in. A mandatory life sentence has since been rendered.
A sordid enough tale if the violence ended there. It does not. Williams is now serving a life sentence for killing Young’s brother Terrance several months later as payback. Shortly thereafter, a hail of bullets greeted Terrance’s girlfriend and child as she arrived at his mother’s house to go over funeral details. She emerged unscathed, but a friend was shot in the leg. Before Cassim’s violent death, his 16-year-old brother Kentell confessed to brutally murdering 15-year-old Germaine Rucker in broad daylight over some gold chains.
Yet, rival though it may the storylines of television crime dramas attracting millions of viewers each week, a Lexis-Nexis search flags only seven stories dealing with Weaver or Young during the past two years. Aside from a hauntingly beautiful Boston Globe piece by Keith O’Brien last May detailing the trials and tribulations of Cassim Weaver’s God-fearing mother, who, like Rakeem Young’s mother, has had to bury one son and watch another disappear into prison forever, it has been lost in the deluge.
In fairness to local reporters here in Boston, providing individual attention to these situations as the murder rate skyrockets and court dockets bulge is no small task, nor does it promise to be any less overwhelming in the foreseeable future. The social fabric of housing projects such as Orchard Park has deteriorated perilously close to something resembling Thomas Hobbes’ warning in Leviathan of a chaotic state in which men lead lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” faced with “continual fear, and danger of violent death.”
One young woman, for example, writes amongst the many heartfelt remembrances on Cassim Weaver’s Black Planet personal webpage, “See you at the crossroads Ceam. I LOVE YOU and I MISS YOU, watch over me as I head off to college, imma make it out the Bean in your memory!!”
No one can fault her prayer for flight, yet it is worth pointing out that people generally escape to, not from, civilization.
While it would be ill-advised to endorse Hobbes’ prescription — call me crazy, but I don’t think an authoritarian monarchy is the answer here — it is difficult to be immersed in these intertwined tragedies without feeling as if we haven’t collectively (via sentiment, inaction or short-sighted government policy) allowed a Hobbesian “state of nature” to develop on the fringes of this otherwise blessed city.
How else to explain the disturbing posts on Weaver’s page from young men whom seem content with the status quo even as they mourn their fallen comrade? Click on links to Weaver’s electronic “friends” under and images of guns, ammunition appear alongside oaths of allegiance to blood-soaked Trailblazer gang.
“I remember you telling me, never let anybody disrespect me because then them niggaz would think they got a power [over] you,” a young man writes, in a typical example of misguided braggadocio. “To this day Cassim, I’ll never let a muthaf—r talk down on me.”
All this bloodshed, endless brothers-in-arms locked down and still not a dent in the mindset that brought it all about. This, it seems, is nihilism in practice.
Despite my belief that the verdict was fair and just, the scene that day in court — the look of resignation and helplessness in the reddened eyes of Rakeem as he stood flanked by a semicircle of court officers; knees buckling ever so slightly as quiet sobs wafted from the gallery and an emotionally overwhelmed young man (Rakeem’s last living brother?) stormed out of the room — continues to haunt.
At some point we as a society are going to have to explain to the mothers of Rakeem Young, Darrell Williams, Cassim Weaver why we stood by as civilization was selectively redefined in certain neighborhoods; explain how we could ignore the ugly indignities of some while proudly extolling the supposedly beautiful progressive virtues of prosperous others, as if the depravity of one part did not reflect poorly on the whole. As if the horrible tragedies, indeed, did not exist at all.
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