Man Caught After Two Slain — on most mornings, this headline would have just received a glance from me. I, like I assume many others, have begun to see it as a normal day in the big city.
But this time was different for me. I became a news junkie. I listened and read everything that was written about the violent actions of the gunman who left Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard dead — dead just because they were black.
Maurice and Vickie were going about the normal events of a normal day, stopping at the neighborhood Kroger — a thing we all do; but they were black. I believe that Maurice symbolized all the black males that the gunman hates.
The Dominican Sisters of Peace congregational study of racism and gun violence became real for me on October 24. – the day that Vickie and Maurice, both grandparents, were gunned down (Maurice, right in front of his 12-year-old grandson).
But why this shooting?
This shooting and death held significance for me because I knew Maurice and his wife, Charlotte. This was not just the death of another black male; it was the killing of a black male that I knew. A man that I celebrated Eucharist with in our common parish; a man I spoke to often and saw even more frequently, as he served the parish in many roles. This killing killed a relationship and it mattered to me.
Being a part of the activities that honored Vickie and Maurice mattered to me; I needed to participate. I attended the vigil held in the Kroger parking lot. I did not anticipate the fear arising in me as I stood in the open space. Fear that became palpable as I watched the armed police officer on the rooftop and wondered if there could be more violence?
I found comfort as I observed the mingling of blacks, browns, whites — why does it take a killing to bring us together?
And there was disbelief as I went into the store finding myself in aisle 37, not because I needed to visit the scene of Maurice’s death but because I was picking up cat food, which happened to be in the next aisle. The disbelief surfaced because this was a small secluded aisle. The killer had to intentionally follow Maurice.
I also attended the visitation because I needed to hug Charlotte. It took two hours to wind my way into the funeral home. What I observed in the parking lot made the wait a blessing. Standing in line, I observed, again, respect for others, calm, long-time friends greeting one another and conversation among strangers. Why do our best manners only get dusted off in the midst of tragedy?
The news coverage has not ended. Charges have been filed but the most significant, that of being a hate crime, has to find its way through the justice system. According to news reports, prior to the shooting, the gunman allegedly tried to enter a predominantly black church nearby but was unable to get inside. When that attempt failed, he went to Kroger instead and opened fire in the store.
As the days pass, I sit with sadness. Maurice’s life mattered to me; his black male life mattered to me. The relationship I had with him makes all the difference.
I pray with the words of the Kaddish that we have heard so often recently: May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us all…may the One who creates harmony on high bring peace to us.