Garden Variety – Pushing Up Daisies

You’ve no doubt seen or read a news story (or two) lately about a murder(s). Any of them stand out in your mind? Sadden you? Anger you? Make you sick to your stomach? I ask because of a little gut-check I had this week while I was chatting with an acquaintance, an assistant state attorney, just checking in with him on some cases I’m covering.

He mentioned a murder case he was about to begin — “just a ‘garden variety’ murder,” he said, as in too common to warrant more than a mention.

Before I go on, for the record, I know this man to be a sensitive person, certainly passionate about what he does daily as a prosecutor, which is, he fights to bring justice for victims of violent crimes. And, for the record, we in the newsroom have applied that very same Martha Stewart-esque label to all sorts of seemingly random and fairly common crimes. And so I cast no personal aspersions. But the conversation begs this sad and not very original question: Have we become so immune to the horror of murder that we can brush it off as “garden variety”?

I don’t regularly cover crime anymore. But that used to be my nightly news diet, back when viewer research showed our then-audience listed “crime” as one of their high-interests concerns. That was a little more than a decade ago, back when street drug wars began to seep into the public consciousness, during a spate of tourist murders, and the Miami Vice television series gave it all a compelling Hollywood-style edge.

Thankfully, viewer concerns and interests have moved to other subjects (at least, according to viewer research). We still do, of course, cover murders on a fairly regular basis, deciding case-by-case if what may make one worthy of a dedicated minute or two of our new broadcast. The central question that helps us decide is, “will you care”?

As a journalist, I’m quite sure I can make you care about the murder of anyone. That’s because for every life taken, there is context, history, a life’s purpose; everyone is someone’s hero, has a mother, has a reason he or she woke up every day. My mission, when so assigned, is to find and give voice to those basic human connections. Then the murder will matter to you. There’s more.. For every life taken, someone is out there valuing a human life far less than something else: money, revenge, anger, jealousy, drugs, fill-in-the-motive-blank. Be afraid of those people. They matter, too.

I told my prosecutor friend to make sure his jury doesn’t consider his case a garden variety murder. I know he won’t let that happen.


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