Quite often a brief news story sums up the collective pathologies of postmodern American society. Here is a recent tragic news item from my local paper, followed by some commentary:
Police call slaying of Hanford woman a random act Posted at 06:04 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, 2011
By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee
A woman found slain at a Hanford car wash this week was killed randomly when a 17-year-old gang member happened to see her while taking a walk, Hanford police said Thursday.
Denise McVay was washing her car — something she did several times a week — early Tuesday morning before work.
The teen was wandering the streets after leaving a party when he saw McVay at the Royal Car Wash on Garner Avenue at about 5 a.m. and decided to kill her, police said.
The teen “simply wanted to kill somebody that night” and McVay, 49, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Capt. Parker Sever said. “It was a purely random act.”
The teen stabbed McVay several times and slit her throat.
The teen took McVay’s money and her car, Sever said, and drove to the home of a fellow gang member, Mauricio Ortiz, 18, of Hanford. Sever said the teen was covered with blood and told Ortiz what he had done.
Ortiz helped him ditch the car at Tachi Palace Casino and went with him to Visalia Mall, where the teen used McVay’s money to buy clean clothes, Sever said.
The teen, whose name was not released because of his age, was booked into the Kings County Juvenile Center on suspicion of murder. Ortiz was booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact.
Walk through this story to learn something about our confused American society. First, note the discrepancy between the employed Ms. McVay — washing her car in the early morning hours on her way to work, apparently intent on having a clean automobile when she arrived — and the unidentified youth who, we are told at first, was “taking a walk,” later expanded into “wandering the streets after leaving a party.” How did we go so nonchalantly in a mere two paragraphs from “taking a walk” to “wandering the streets after leaving a party”?
In our present society, an able-bodied young man of 17 has leisure to walk about at 5 a.m. after a night of partying, while a hard-working woman squeezes in such an early morning moment to wash her car in order to appear presentable at work.
Note, furthermore, that our society has no compunction about letting the world know the identity of Ms. Denise McVay, who was horribly murdered and left dead on the pavement of a car wash. But it is worried that we might learn the name of the “17-year-old gang member,” also known as an anonymous “teen.” Yet why are we, as a society, more sensitive to disclosing the identity of a gang-member and suspected killer than of a slain productive worker?
In the transition from a shame culture to a guilt culture, America has become a confused society that values the sensitivities of the felonious living far more than respect for the law-abiding dead. Could it not simply waive anonymity protocols in cases of capital crimes? If 16- or 17-year-old would-be murderers knew that their names, addresses, and photos would be published on commission of a crime, would that create any deterrence to their viciousness — or at least provide solace to the community that barbaric killers do not slide so easily through the special exemptions afforded to immature “teens”?
Unfortunately, the story only becomes more depressing. We next read that the anonymous teen “simply wanted to kill somebody that night,” and, unfortunately, Ms. McVay, 49, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” So a Capt. Parker Sever goes on to characterize the fact that “the teen stabbed McVay several times and slit her throat” as “a purely random act.”
The law-enforcement officer, who no doubt means well, nonetheless describes a productive worker, striving to clean her car, as “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But in fact, it is the anonymous teen who is in the wrong place at the wrong time — as if civilization could possibly continue if the majority followed his wrong hours and wrong behavior. Ms. McVay, in fact, was in the right place at the right time, and she should have had every expectation that that she could go to the car wash before work without worry that a murderous gang-banger would slit her throat.