If not enough has been said about slain Milwaukee 13-year-old Darius Simmons, it’s because so few know what to say anymore. When a sixth-grader can be gunned down in front of his mother, in front of their home, on the mere and baseless suspicion that he’s stolen something from his neighbor, it’s hard to shore up the words to reflect, respond, or report without thinking of all the similar cases that have come before it. It’s hard to describe the white 75-year-old neighbor, John Henry Spooner, and the 9 mm shots he allegedly fired: the first–discharged five feet from the boy–was the fatal one, but as the boy tried to run before later collapsing, a second shot–aimed at his back–was a miss, and a third attempted shot was unsuccessful, according to community activist David Muhammad.
It’s difficult to discuss circulating photos of his mother, Patricia Larry, holding a snapshot of her slain son, her eyes bloodshot, her expression pained and bereft with grief. And it’s cold comfort that Spooner is already in custody, charged with first degree intentional homicide. Because no matter whether he’s acquitted or convicted and regardless of his sentence, we’re still left with the disturbing realization that he thought he was well within his rights to shoot the unarmed boy next door, as the child stood before him with his hands raised. We know that very little anyone said or did could’ve convinced Spooner otherwise, even though he had no evidence that the boy had stolen from him, even though Darius was in school when the alleged theft reportedly occurred, and even though firing at close range on anyone when no life is in imminent danger is never the right response.
Cases like these make us feel helpless. Because even if the law prevails, the world seems dimmer.
But we need to speak Darius Simmons’ name. We need to follow his case. And we need to discuss it with others. As we’ve seen with the Trayvon Martin case, too much of society is desperate to explain away senseless racial killing by finding fault with the victim. Too many are so hard-pressed to understand what motivated the aggressor, they’re willing to excuse his actions as somehow justifiable. (In the case of John Henry Spooner, the front-running “justification” is that his home had been a repeated target of theft, that he’d complained to his Alderman and nothing had been done about it.)
If nothing else, understanding cases like these can help us discuss them rationally, and stand our ground about the very obvious racial motivation of crimes like these, a motivation so many are quick to dismiss.