By Paul Helmke
The bracelet sounds like it might have been one of those advertised on second tier cable channels after midnight, the kind of item sometimes described as “genuine gold tone.”
It was a cheap, artificial keepsake, that bracelet, according to press reports so far. The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. won’t comment on specifics, saying the bracelet is part of the investigation.
But in the end, because of the easy availability of dangerous guns, that bracelet commanded an incredible price: 10 people shot, five fatally, and four police officers injured in the nation’s Capital. One of those murdered died on March 22, the other injuries and deaths came Tuesday, March 30. The killers used an AK-47 style semiautomatic assault weapon and two handguns in the second shooting event, according to press reports. We banned the civilian sale of these types of weapons for 10 years, but that law expired in 2004. Police say they see more and more of these weapons back on the streets.
According to the Washington Post, a bracelet was missing, so the 19-year-old owner and another man shot at and killed a 20-year-old they suspected of stealing the bracelet. Eight days later, just after the suspected thief’s funeral, armed men drove to a DC apartment building and opened fire, killing four others and wounding five.
To add irony to tragedy, the media reports that the bracelet hadn’t even been stolen. It had been picked up for safekeeping by a friend of the owner, who later turned in to investigators.
I’ve heard about so many pointless killings over the years – disputes over basketball sneakers, boyfriends and girlfriends, perceived “disrespect,” and “cheap” jewelry. A good friend, Chief Richard Pennington – who until recently served as Chief of Police in Atlanta, Georgia – has told me he’s forever puzzled by homicides driven by these “trivial matters.” From an investigative perspective, these cases are not hard to solve – sometimes the shooter is identified in 15 minutes, he’s told me. But Chief Pennington laments how pointless the crimes are, and we all agree. As Washington Post editors wrote, “no amount of investigation will ever be able to explain how a disagreement over a lost bracelet could end up costing four people their lives. It is unfathomable.”
We value life too little when we make it so easy for dangerous people to arm themselves. We mourn the deaths, and we are shocked at the horrendous incidents. But one of the reasons a 14-year-old boy and two young adults are in jail now facing murder charges is because we practically give them these firearms, including military-style assault weapons. Some say we need more people with more guns in more places to make us all safer. How would that have helped the young girl standing on the sidewalk as the shots were fired from the car? The logic is insulting – in order to put out the fire, they say, pour more gasoline on it.
I am reminded of a somber scene from near the end of the 1996 movie Fargo. In the scene, the police chief played by Frances McDormand (who won the Best Actress award for the film) drives her police cruiser, looking up to her rear view mirror at the killer handcuffed in the back seat, and laments.
“Don’t you know that?
“And here you are. And it’s a beautiful day.
“Well, I just don’t understand it.”