My pal Joe Flores, who cuts hair, was talking this week about his many customers who have expressed outrage over the shooting of Ella the deer in Kansas City’s Elmwood Cemetery. Joe has been pushing back a bit, wondering why Kansas City shows more remorse over the death of a deer than it shows toward its many homicide victims.
We talked about this the day before prosecutors announced they’d charged a 19-year-old Kansas City man in connection with Ella’s death. Phoenix M. Vankirk allegedly told prosecutors he shot the deer because he wanted its meat for food, but left the carcass lying in the cemetery when he couldn’t get his vehicle through the locked gate.
As someone who has spent years writing pieces decrying murders, I have some thoughts on this subject.
It’s not that people care more about a deer than they do about people. Anyone with a conscience is appalled at Kansas City’s homicide numbers, which frequently top 100 a year. One can feel badly about the shooting of a beloved animal and still be outraged about the slaughter of human beings on the streets of a Midwest city.
People talked about Ella’s death because it was unusual. Her very presence in the midtown cemetery was improbable, and her demise by gunshot was unwarranted and cruel.
That last part is true of every nearly every homicide. Outside of self-defense, murder is never warranted and it is always cruel.
But when it comes to public reaction, not all homicides are equal. I know I am more likely to write a column expressing outrage at a death if an innocent victim was the target than if the victim has a long rap sheet and may himself have been involved in violence.
The horrible murders last week of 28-year-old Myeisha Turner and her 3-year-old son, Damiah White, in their home prompted news coverage, prayers and pleas for justice because the victims were much-loved and their deaths seem so pointless and frightening.
For a time in my career I wrote a lot about murders. Then, as now, most homicide victims in Kansas City were involved in some kind of dangerous activity, whether it be drug dealing or gang affiliation or just hanging out with the wrong people. But if you look beyond those circumstances, most of them also have family who love them. They had hopes and dreams and redeeming qualities.
Sadly, though, there are too many deaths, and only so much public sympathy and attention to go around. And, in the absence so far of a successful police and community strategy to stop the killing, indiscriminate outrage and remorse seem futile. And so we pick and choose.
I am very angry that somebody stupidly shot Ella the deer. I am horrified by the deaths of Myeisha Turner and her son Damiah. I am disgusted that 72 homicides have been recorded in Kansas City this year.
There is nothing wrong with lamenting the death of Ella. What’s wrong is that the senseless deaths of human beings in Kansas City outnumber our capacity to lament them all.