The St. Pete Times (now Tampa Bay Times) has run its latest sob story** about an accused killer, this one Nicholas Lindsey. True to form, the Times announces in its headline that it will explore why life unravelled for the St. Petersburg teen.
There is the usual objection to be made about such stories. The reporting is all about the killer’s alleged good qualities, and the reporters work hard to diminish the killer’s responsibility, even though doing so crudely diminishes the value of the murdered police officer’s life. Buying a Pepsi for a teacher is presented as mitigation against murdering a good man in cold blood. In the past, I’ve had reporters from that paper tell me they believe they are being “balanced” in their reporting by telling the sob story of the murderer one day and the life story of the murder victim the next, as if doing so balances some ethical scale.
And so, the brute known as mawkish sentimentality strangles moral perspective at her rickety desk in the darkest corner of newsroom.
But even if one sets the lack-of-human-decency objection aside, the reporters still failed. They failed to explore what they claim to have set out to explore, which is the alleged “unravelling” of Nicholas Lindsey’s life. The young man committed other serious crimes and apparently faced no consequences for them, but the reporters don’t want to talk about this, so they shove it away quickly, as if it is irrelevant. In doing so, they deny the very thing they claim to be seeking: the reason why Lindsey went so wrong so young.
Nicholas Lindsey had already been caught and arrested, found guilty, and allowed to walk out of some courthouse laughing over prior crimes. His father and brother, too, served time. This ought to be the beginning, middle, and end of the search to explain Lindsey’s escalation to cop-killing, but the reporters do not linger on the subject. Why? Have they internalized anti-incarceration biases to the point that they actually believe his prior record is irrelevant? Or are they that afraid of ruffling the feathers of those who control the anti-incarceration message by shouting “prejudice” when anyone broaches the subject?
Either way, the prior crimes are brushed over, and the “unravelling” is presented as a “mystery” and also a “surprise.” This is a complete fabrication. There is no mystery. There is no surprise. The reporters scurry away from the facts, tumbling over themselves to reach the only acceptable meme, the “too many minority youths are incarcerated” meme. Here is the story they must tell, the only story they allow themselves to tell: the prior arrests are irrelevant because punishing the youth for them would have been prejudiced; “gang life” has simply “changed” an otherwise decent young man; the young man is not really responsible for the murder he committed because he is a decent young man, only changed by gang life; more money spent on more social programs for youths who commit crimes is the only answer: thus the only real villain is anyone who refuses to throw more money at youth programs in St. Petersburg . . . a city that already has more youth programs than cockroaches. Yet young black men keep killing each other and innocents who cross their paths.
There is a great deal of money to be had in this view, and real danger in questioning it. There is, in fact, a virtually unlimited amount of money to be had in this view, for every time a young person commits a crime, that crime may be used as evidence of the need for more “programs,” which keep bad kids out of jail to commit more crimes, thus increasing the need for more programs. The alternative — arguing that a youth who steals a car ought to go to jail so he learns his lesson if he is capable of learning a lesson — is virulently attacked as pure racism by the anointed experts who populate every university and law school, federal agency, and editorial board. Who wants to risk that?
Here’s a question: what comes first, the social program or the teen murderer?
This is less a journalism problem than an “experts” problem. The journalists just carry the experts’ water. And so, after closing their eyes to the only real clue and tiptoeing cautiously around the other taboo — assigning blame to the killer’s drug-selling, absentee dad — the St. Pete Times reporters are left with nothing but an embarrassing handful of anecdotes about a violent young man’s paltry virtues: a soda purchased for someone, Lindsey not screaming at a teacher in detention once, an ex-girlfriend who has a mother who is eager to insert herself into the news. The reporters talk about the killer being a “shy wisp” of a boy and bemoan the “fuzz” just “starting to grow” on his face. This is repugnant stuff, but it’s all they’ve got because they won’t ask the real questions.
Here are the questions they refuse to ask: who is the judge who let Lindsey walk on previous serious crimes? How many other youths who walked out his or her courtroom committed more crimes, destroying their lives and others’? What can be done about it? Who in our justice system bears responsibility for the legal decisions that enabled Lindsey to be free to commit more crimes?
And this: if Lindsey’s parents were so worried about their son’s involvement in gangs, what, precisely, did they do when he was previously arrested? Why did they let him advertise his gang connections on Facebook? Why didn’t they move away from the apartment complex which, allegedly, as the reporters choose to assert as undeniable fact, was the sole source of Lindsey’s transformation into a murderous gang-banger?
If the bar to acceptable behavior is set so low in Lindsey’s community that multiple car thefts aren’t taken seriously, then somebody decided it would be so. Members of that community who really want change should be protesting outside the courthouse, demanding that judges and prosecutors save young men’s lives by throwing the book at them the first time, and every time they break the law. They should be sitting alongside the police, who are attending Lindsey’s trial in street clothes because they are not allowed to wear their uniforms, lest doing so deprives the murderer of every little drop of the sympathy the activists deem as his portion.
I know there are people in that community who want to support law enforcement and want to do it out of love for the children who grow up to be Nicholas Lindseys. I’ve worked in communities like the one that produced Nicholas Lindsey and met those people. But they are silenced by wealthy and powerful anti-incarceration activists, people who don’t live in or visit such places. The good people trapped in bad neighborhoods will never be heard so long as the elite activist class — and their eager water-carriers in the media — continue to silence them. More Officer Crawfords will be murdered as a result, and more Nicholas Lindseys will live their ruined lives behind bars.
But the activists and the reporters will feel virtuous. And isn’t that all that really counts?
**bad link, try: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1220622.ece, or: At 16, Life Unravels for St. Petersburg Teen Accused of Killing Police Officer