So far this year 94 people between the ages of 10 and 19 have been murdered in Los Angeles. Of those, 11 were girls. Of those 11 girls, five were Hispanic, five were black, and one was white.
Take a guess which one got the bulk of the news coverage.
On July 24th, 17-year-old Lily Burk was kidnapped and murdered in Downtown Los Angeles. Lily was about to be a senior at Oakwood, a private school in North Hollywood. She was from a well to do family. She had a lot going for her.
And she ended up dead, anyway.
The chief suspect, Charlie Samuel, a black man out on parole, was picked up the next day. It's pretty much airtight that he did it. His prints are all over the car. If I recall correctly they have a shot from a traffic camera of him driving the car, but I'm not sure if that's accurate.
Funnily enough he wasn't picked up for her murder, but for drinking beer in public and having a crack pipe on him.
For a variety of reasons, clerical mistakes, lack of his appointed escort, etc. he shouldn't have been where he was to be able to abduct her in the first place. But he was and he did and there's fuck all we can do about it now but mourn.
I haven't talked about it here since it happened. I tend to avoid the big stories. And also because I was still thinking things over, wondering what it is that's been bothering me about this whole thing. Beyond the obvious, of course; someone's dead who shouldn't be.
And that, as it turns out is the crux of it. She shouldn't be dead. This isn't the sort of thing that's supposed to happen to wealthy, teenage, white girls.
Why not? And that's a serious question. What has been ingrained in our minds that this simply does not happen? Her death has shattered not only her family and friends, but countless strangers who look at her story as anything from a cautionary tale to a parent's ultimate nightmare.
At that point it stops being about Lily Burk and starts being about us.
Back in 1997, The Onion did a story with the headline, "Ugly Girl Killed - Nation Unshaken By Not-So-Tragic Death" about how nobody cared that unremarkable 6-year-old Edith Pelphrey was murdered. It was in response to the national hand-wringing over the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
But who was Edith? What was she going through as she neared the end? In these modern times, do we as Americans even care about such questions? The answer is clear, and it is: no, we do not. But now, after what little tears there were have long fallen, lingering questions about Edith's murder remain, failing to elicit anything beyond indifference from anyone.If you do a Google search for '"Lily Burk" Los Angeles' you get 43,300 hits. James Ellroy even did a heart wrenching essay on her in Newsweek.
Now do a search for '"Celestina Morando" Los Angeles', a girl who was killed in a murder suicide on March 12, 2009 in East L.A. You get 36 hits.
Celeste Fremon, over at WitnessLA.com points out that part of the reason there is so much coverage probably has something to do with her father and her peers.
Because Greg Burk, Lily Burk’s father, is a writer (He worked for years at the LA Weekly), and because Lily was a student at Oakwood, a school that tends to draw creative types, Lily Burk’s friends (and her parents’ friends and her friends’ parents) tend to be, as a group, very articulate. As a consequence, there are a a lot of people around the web expressing their anguish with painful clarity.An excellent point. But more than 40,000?
I have seen posts blaming the parents. I honestly don't understand why. They did nothing wrong but trust. In her, in the city, in the simple reality that this sort of thing doesn't happen. I can't judge that. I won't.
We're also beginning to hear the rumblings of politics. I see her name invoked more frequently in online comments as we struggle with what to do with our overcrowded prisons. She will become a rallying point for some. Just as the death of Jamiel Shaw Jr. became a rallying point against illegal immigration and Special Order 40.
After all, if we were tougher on crime, which for some means longer prison sentences, Charlie Samuel would not have been able to hurt her. The problem, sadly, is far more complex than a name on a banner can convey.
Overall, I find myself wondering why do we care about this girl and not another? I'm asking that question more and more often. Why this one and not that one? Who stays, and who gets tossed overboard?
We are drawn to certain tragedies more than others. Not all media covers all news the same way. We care about the things that are like us, that are part of our tribe, whether that be the color of one's skin, or the cash in one's pocket.
We chew it over and over until it becomes nothing more than another rule for survival. "Don't go to that part of town, you'll be shot." "Don't wear high heels and short skirts, you'll get raped." "Don't be a 17-year-old girl in Downtown L.A. It'll get you killed."
Or, like this one, Google hit #279, from the disturbing whitecivilrights.com, "marry a non-White and the parents will be stuck with brown grandchildren, which they will have to financially support".
Yeah, I don't get it, either.
I guess what I'm hoping is that we'll at least pay a little more attention. The big stories aren't the only stories. The pretty, the young, the well off, they're not the only tragedies we should pay attention to.
If only there weren't so many.