Shooting should spur community examination

Here’s the dirty little secret about Las Vegas.

Despite our reputation as the wildest place on Earth to spend a tourism dollar, when you get away from the glitz of the Strip, we’re an ordinary city, filled with ordinary people. We raise our families not with the anything-goes values for which the city is marketed, but with the caution and hope of any place in America.

When a Palo Verde High School student was killed in a drive-by shooting as he walked home, we reacted like an ordinary community — with fear, shock and anger. There is still some of that out there. And I understand it. But the challenge for us now — and the great hope — is to find ways to move past those natural reactions to a healthy examination of what it is to be a community.

I know this sounds like touchy-feely, granola-kind-a stuff.

It’s not. It’s frighteningly practical. Moving through the good and bad events in life without getting stuck in a destructive blame game is what healthy living is all about.

For example, some people in and around the Palo Verde community have attached racial significance to the event. The victim was white. The suspect is black. Both students in a high school that, while located in a perceived "safe" upper-income community, is actually attended by children from a diverse range of neighborhoods.

When the Review-Journal reported the story to the wider community, many hundreds reacted. On the newspaper Web site’s community posting board, people expressed sympathy, asked normal "why" questions and speculated how it might have been avoided.

I’m sorry to say some people also latched on to the racial elements of the story. And some of those comments were very ugly. While we are loath to cut off comment, we removed the postings that were offensive and harmful.

But taking down the posts doesn’t eliminate the feelings. Obviously, there are some in our community who, perhaps because of the suffering and outrage of the moment, write things they otherwise would never articulate.

But these racial tensions exist just under the surface in Las Vegas. These fears need to be openly addressed. A community-wide effort at race relations — coupled with good, old-fashioned understanding and compassion — might help the next time we’re faced with a similar situation. I’ll help organize and promote. Who’s with me?

I don’t know much about what’s right or wrong to say in these kinds of situations. I can only go by my own experience. Having raised five children in Las Vegas (and now watching some of my grandchildren grow up here), I know how scary it can be. There’s not a parent reading this who doesn’t know in their bones that despite all the best care and attention, a tragedy of the Palo Verde shooting could happen to their child.

And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we can similarly identify with the loss and anguish the suspect’s family is going through.

This is not to mitigate the suffering, nor is it to deny the justice that naturally must follow. It was one stupid act about which the more details we learn, the sadder it becomes all the way around. The quicker we get to that point, the healthier we’ll be.

 

Sherman Frederick is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media. Readers may write him at sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com.

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