I Don’t Get This

Mitch Brenner: I guess we read the same gossip columns.
Melanie Daniels:
Oh, that. Rome.
Mitch Brenner:
Yeah, I really like to swim, I think we might get along very well.

Melanie Daniels: In case you're interested, I was pushed into that fountain.

Mitch Brenner: Without any clothes on?

Melanie Daniels: With all my clothes on. The newspaper that ran that story happens to be a rival of my father's paper.

Mitch Brenner: You're just a poor, innocent victim of circumstances, huh?

Melanie Daniels:Well I'm neither poor nor innocent, but the truth of that particular…

The Birds (1963)

(Picture swiped from the City Paper.)

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after I got home, GF asked me if I'd heard the latest news about the late Ken Harris. I had, but I wanted to see where she was going with it, so I said no. 

"It turns out that there was somebody in the car with him," she said, with just a hint of conspiracy in her voice.


"It was a woman."

Now I knew where she was going, so I replied again, "So?"

"She wasn't his wife." 


"Well, it's pretty obvious that he was up to something."

This is where the conversation pretty much broke down. Her point, which I've heard other people spout, is that if he hadn't been out with this woman then he wouldn't have been killed. And the way that I've heard it phrased, is that because he may have been doing something that ain't quite right (and as I write this, I don't think it's clear what relationship he has with this person), that he somehow had it coming.

That's absurd. ABSURD! What's the matter with this city, anyway?

Look, this is not a case where a guy is on a street corner and tries to buy some heroin, and the deal goes bad and the guns go off and that's that. Nor is this a situation where someone is, himself, out committing a crime and winds up in a firefight because his intended victim turns out to be heavily armed. 

This is a man who is doing something that anybody might be doing. It was late at night and he was (presumably) looking to open a bottle of wine. A light goes off in his head: "Hey, I have a friend at the bar nearby; I'm sure he can help." So off he heads. 

And he winds up getting killed for it. 

It doesn't matter whom he was with. Nor does it matter why he was with her, unless this was some weird situation where she set him up to be there for assassination, which doesn't sound so likely to me. The fact is, Ken Harris could have been any guy in any parking lot who was doing something that wasn't illegal and, in so doing, became our city's Murder Victim #160 for the year. It just so happened that he was locally famous. 

The message that the "Divine Justice" crowd is handing out is that we shouldn't go out. If we stay home, nothing bad can happen to us. Does anybody see anything wrong with this head-in-the-sand mentality? Are we so inured to the violence in this city that we simply find some reason in our heads to justify why we weren't the victim this time? "Hey, he shouldn't have been there at that hour. He was doing wrong and got what was coming to him." It doesn't matter! The man didn't deserve to die just for being where he was! 

I, for one, can't remain cloistered in my house just because something could happen to me. Many of the schools I work with (or in, for that matter) are in less-than-excellent neighborhoods. If I'm out doing my job and I take a bullet, is the refrain going to be that I shouldn't have been in that neighborhood? That I shouldn't have been doing my job? That I shouldn't have been working to make the lives of children in our city a little better, and that I shouldn't have done my job without regard for race or economic ranking?

I truly don't understand the mind-set involved, here. 

4 thoughts on “I Don’t Get This”

  1. I was one of those who argued that if he stayed home that night he’d have been alive in the morning. While I agree that who he was with and why he was with whoever he was with is irrelevant, I know from my own experience and from having a similar home situation as Harris that if I’m out at that time of night without my family I’m up to no good. Not illegal, but not good. I can’t think of a single good non-emergency reason for me to be out at that time of night anywhere without a family member with me.
    So while I don’t care where he was, why he was there, or who he was with, I believe his chances of waking up alive the next morning would have been 100% higher if he put a little more tought into where he was going, why he was going there, and who he was going with. Your going to schools in bad neighborhoods and the danger that comes with that as part of your job is a lot different than (allegedly) looking for a corkscrew in a club in the middle of the night to (allegedly) drink a bottle of wine with a woman who’s not your wife, and HArris had much more control over what he was doing on his personal time than you have on your on-the-job time.
    Although, in the end, he didn’t deserve to die the way he did at all and I don’t believe Harris’ killing was any kind of devine retribution. That’s ridiculous.

  2. Humans look for order and meaning in a random and chaotic world. Devine justice is an attempt at that. My view is things happen because things happen. While it is certainly ironic that Mr. Harris was fighting for ways to prevent teen violence and then ended up being killed in an incident of teen violence, there is no cause and effect there. Similarly there’s no more meaning in a murder if it happens when you’re doing something immoral or if it’s happening when you’re doing something noble. You’re equally dead in both cases. So in the end you do what you need/want to do while keeping risks down to an acceptable level. It’s a personal call of what you do and what risks you’re willing to take. If you’ve made the choice to be married or in a relationship, certainly these choices will affect your partner so they should expect to be allowed to have some input, but in the end it’s your choice.

  3. Thank you for this post and your side. What th-? Stay home? Why? did we suddenly realize that we live in Baltimore? Murder #160. Hey we only have about 75-100 more left in the year. And the speculation of the woman? Your excerpt from the Birds was right on. Who else is going to make such a point of the woman in the car then someone who wants it to be known and known all over?
    1. Doesn’t Harris live in that area? So he wouldn’t be too far from home
    2. He’s on city council and could be entertaining guests at all hours of the night. That’s allowed
    3. Wine may be involved. That’s allowed
    4. He frequented this club often. Who wouldn’t? It’s the best Jazz spot this side of town. That’s allowed
    5. Maybe his wife and other guests were waiting back at the house for him to return with a corkscrew. That’s allowed
    6. Maybe the lady in the car just wanted to tag along to see the club. That’s allowed
    7. Maybe the lady was a relative, in-law
    8. Maybe we don’t know anything else about this case then speculation?
    Maybe all of my speculations are exactly what happened. Or maybe it was a setup.
    Maybe brevity really IS the sole of wit.

  4. I have to admit I also caught that when this was first reported. And your are right, no body deserves that. What does bother me though is that it would be nice if the law, media, city, etc. would make this big of a deal with EVERY life which is lost in these streets! God Speed!

Comments are closed.