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Remember the Rockmart families

February 3, 2019

DEAR EDITOR:

I grew up in Rockmart. Now I live in Chicago.

To keep up with what’s going on around my hometown, I’ll sometimes go to the Rome News-Tribune website to catch the news from the region where I was raised.

On last Thursday night, Jan. 24, I went to the website and saw the breaking news that four people had been murdered and another injured in “targeted” shootings at two locations in Rockmart.

Living in Chicago, a city rocked by the murders of African-Americans often fueled by gangs and drugs, I read the locations of the murders and the names of the victims and made the assumption that these were African-Americans that had been murdered. Looking for a quick, easy explanation for four murders in a small, quiet town, I assumed the murders were associated with drugs or gangs or both.

The next day, my brother related to me that one of the victims was the son of a former Little League teammate. This teammate was talented, humorous and had a million-dollar smile. I haven’t thought about Eric in years, but suddenly I didn’t want to “write off” and forget these victims because my racist assumption was that drugs and gangs were involved. I didn’t want the fact that they were “targeted” (read: relax, it’s not random and you’re not next) make me care less. I had decided that maybe they weren’t innocent victims. We’ve somehow decided that people who play a role in their own death somehow deserve what they get and are less worthy of our sympathy.

But as what drove the murders in Rockmart becomes clear (if it ever can be clear), I have a sense that drugs and gangs won’t be directly involved. Instead, I think like most mass murders in America (yes, this is a mass murder), it will fall squarely on the evil perpetrator they all just happened to know.

It’s been over 50 years since the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we celebrated his birthday just three days before Rockmart lost four of its young citizens. We often wonder how we should honor the legacy of Dr. King.

I think Dr. King would remind us that black lives matter. Not in the narrow, all-caps BLM political movement centered on police brutality, but in the common-sense understanding that black and brown lives have intrinsic worth. He would remind us that we should name, honor and remember the victims of mass murders not just in places where the victims are white and affluent like Parkland, Florida, or in big cities like Orlando and Las Vegas, but also in small towns like Rockmart. We should acknowledge loss of children and grieve with the parents of people like my former teammate Eric, who now must bury his 24-year-old son. I can’t imagine how terrible that must be. Like Eric’s son, Dadrian, most of the victims of this senseless event were young, one reported to be just 19. Their lives mattered in life and they matter now, too.

I’ll repeat what I wrote above. On Thursday, Rockmart lost four of her citizens in a mass murder. Try and force yourself to do what I was slow to do. Ignore race. Ignore income. Ignore what side-of-town. Four citizens gunned down and taken too soon. Four families devastated. Four citizens lost. Period.

After the killer is brought to justice, I hope we’re able to spend some time remembering the victims and their lives. They deserve as much. Their families deserve as much. Rockmart deserves as much. We owe it to ourselves to remember them.

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