The Need for Knowledge:
The Choice To Be Blind
While the bodies pile up in what we call our Nation’s Backyard, the rest of the country chooses to deny the facts and to remain blind to the truth. The gruesome statistics, and tales of violence in “The Murder of Thirty of My Neighbors” by Jim Myers has the ability to force just about anyone into understanding the severity of the situation the residents of service area 109, also known as eastern Capitol Hill, are facing. It isn’t often that people see or hear about this violent world, partly because they would rather not deal with it and also because the politicians who have the power to do something about it are the ones helping to keep the rest of society ignorant. That is why it is important for someone like Myers to step in and invade the serenity of these ignorant lives and prove that violence and murder are the reality for many people living in America. Myers speaks of the cold-blooded murders, drive-by shootings, robberies, and hate infested streets he sees every day in the place he calls home. He uses these violent facts, blunt statements, and sometimes even sarcasm to convey the seriousness of this matter as well as the reality he and his neighbors have come to accept as normal.
When attempting to explain the conditions Myers’ lives in, straightforward, realistic statements are usually the most effective way to do so. “Near my house in the 1990s we had drive-by killings, run-by killings, sneak-up killings, gunfights and battles, car chases. We had drug killings, vengeance killings, the killing of witnesses to other crimes, accidental killings, and killings that enforce values we can only vaguely fathom” (73). Myers’ illustrates the violence he sees on a daily basis, which allows someone like myself, who comes from a small suburban town and is not familiar with killings of any sort, to better understand the nature of the violence he is describing. It is a very bold statement that sets the tone of the essay, for this type of violence is common to Myers and is something he has become accustomed to. For those of us who are lucky enough to live in areas sheltered from violence and death, there is a need for outside sources to make us aware of the condition of the world around us. Myers helps to supply this source of information, which is presented in such a way that we can’t ignore it, or easily close our eyes to forget. Unfortunately, our sources have become limited because people simply don’t want to hear about what’s really going on. It also becomes difficult when the people in power like politicians from Capitol Hill wish to conceal the truth because it is easier to deny the facts than attempt to justify murder.
When someone becomes comfortable with murder and death the way Myers has, it becomes apparent in the way he presents his facts. While reading his essay, I came across traces of sarcasm that almost increased the validity of his statements. Take a quote where he is explaining an outside view of the murders in his neighborhood as an example. “ ‘Drug-related’ a phrase with almost magical properties: it raises a bulletproof barrier between the world of law and order and the world of chaos…If all our murders are ‘drug-related’, then those who are not involved with drugs can feel safe”(75). He is almost mocking the stereotyping of members of his neighborhood and the false sense of security people feel by justifying murder in this fashion. The government who supports the ‘drug-related’ explanation tagged on the many murders in this neighborhood also aids this type of denial. Myers explains that because people want to feel safe, they try any way possible to distance themselves from crime and murder. Unfortunately, the people of service are 109, do not have that option. He goes on to state, “After all, we must carry on even as the bodies pile up”(76), which is a discomforting statement but it helps to explain his frame of mind and how he has become numb to violence of this nature. Comments like these forced me to attempt to remove myself from the present and try to see life as it must be for those who live with such violence and hate. It is very difficult because nothing I have experienced could ever come near to what these people have lived through, and being a middle-class, white Sebastopolian, I feel foolish even trying to imagine what these people have had to endure.
Another tactic Myers uses to illustrate the type of violence occurring in his neighborhood is putting it in terms people can easily understand, even if it’s not something they have ever had to experience first hand. “Everybody was panting—after a shooting there’s a panicky rush to find out who has been shot, because people we know get killed in our neighborhood more often than strangers do” (73). Myers states this after recalling the shooting of two teenage boys inside a local liquor store. The manner in which he speaks impresses his point; that this is the reality of his neighborhood and that events like these must be accepted as a fact of life. He can reach those who are unfamiliar with this situation on a personal level, make them feel what these people must feel when they rush to a crime scene, hoping that the body isn’t a friend, sibling or even a parent. The more the reader can relate, the more likely it is that the essay will have an impact on his or her life.
I believe that people would rather be blind to the truth, then shown the true horrors that occur every day. We as a society have gotten comfortable with our ability to change the channel or flip the newspaper page when we read or hear something that frightens or discomforts us. This is why it is essential for these stories of brutality and murder be heard and accepted as fact. For those of us lucky enough to live in safe, comfortable, and secure environments where these violent issues do not disturb us, it has become easy to dismiss these issues as something that will not have an effect on us. But, sometimes it takes horrifying stories, and sick violence to show us that we cannot hide our eyes forever. Myers has allowed me a glimpse into his world through his writing and brought me to realize that everything he’s said is real and true. Now that I can accept that, I can’t close my eyes to easily forget it.
Myers, Jim. “The Murder of Thirty of My Neighbors.” The Atlantic Monthly March 2000: 72-86