The Need to Know

On April 10th, 2017, around fifty five million children, from pre-school through high school, went to school. At least one of them didn’t make it home that day. Jonathan Martinez, eight years old, was killed when Cedric Anderson shot him. He shot and killed his wife, Elaine Smith, and wounded another student before killing himself. This appears to be a case of the all-too-common problem of intimate partner violence becoming deadly. There have been several articles written about how intimate partner violence can be fatal for women, particularly black women. Read them.

I can’t get past the death of this boy. Like the Sandy Hook shooting, I’ve pushed it out of my mind because it’s too much for me to imagine what those last moments of his life must have been like. No one deserves to die like that, least of all a child in their classroom. My heart aches for his family and friends who will miss the opportunity to see him grow up.

Yet I find myself asking the question, did I really need to know that this boy was killed?

Two years ago, there was an incident at a pool party in McKinney, Texas. A fourteen year old black girl named Dajerria Becton was slammed to the ground by a white police officer. The story set social media ablaze, and for a few days afterwards my Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up with news stories, thinkpieces, and images of Dajerria being restrained. I must have seen Dajerria’s face, contorted and twisted in pain as she cried out, a hundred times before the social media firestorm ended. Every time I scrolled down my page, there she was. I began to see her pain even after I logged off. The image was a permanent fixture in my imagination for weeks.

Since that incident, I’ve become more aware of the need to distinguish between “raising awareness” and creating an echo chamber of pain and suffering. Social media has shared the stories of people like Sandra Bland, who might have otherwise died in that jail cell without a second thought. It has also given us the image of the Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. These images take on a life of their own as they bounce around each other’s news feeds until it feels like we’re trading in voyeuristic death for its own sake. I’ve unfollowed certain people on Facebook and changed my own posting habits, because I can’t be sure that what I’m doing is raising anyone’s awareness (especially amongst the self-selecting group of people I’ve curated on my Facebook for sharing my political and social views) or instead simply showing them another person in the most painful moment of their life. I’ve decided to forgo the former to prevent the latter.

Which brings me back to Jonathan Martinez, a beautiful little boy who was living his life well until he was murdered by a lunatic in a place where he should have been safe. Knowledge of his death has done nothing for me except to introduce an irrational level of fear into my life. School is an overwhelmingly safe place for children and adults. Yet the fear is there, that I could send my son to school and he might not come home. I know it’s completely unlikely, but it doesn’t feel unlikely, not after seeing Jonathan’s face splashed across social media for a week.  Ignorance may not be the ideal state, but I could live with the bliss of not knowing about murdered children.

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