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How will we answer for a wasted life?

Suddenly the rest of the news seemed unreal, unimportant — the struggling economy, the doings in the Legislature, the standard assortment of political absurdities — next to headlines about a little girl killed for no reason at all.

Oh, wait — there is a reason. There's a reason a St. Petersburg second-grader named Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was gunned down by bullets fired at her home in the early hours of a Sunday morning — something to do with retribution and retaliation and a fistfight between men, something related to an age-old neighborhood-against-neighborhood beef.

All of which will seem even more senseless and stupid when time passes and she is still gone, when a handful of young men will have officially thrown their lives away for what turns out to be no real reason at all.

There is plenty to haunt you in the news stories about an 8-year-old with a love of books and bikes and princesses, and who, not to put too sad a point on it, won't get the chance to grow up into anything more.

There is the image of her waking up to noise outside the house where she lived in the Bartlett Park neighborhood south of downtown St. Pete, where maybe sounds of trouble were not unfamiliar despite a dip in crime there, and then the girl caught in a hail of bullets that weren't even intended for her.

Something else keeps repeating in my head about this long-standing war between neighborhoods, the young men from Bethel Heights and the young men from Harbordale.

"No one even remembers how the feud started," the Times reported this week.

Now how empty, how pointless, how wrong is that — a kid's life spent for an anger no one can really even name?

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of the senseless, state Rep. Darryl Rouson managed to say something that resonated, condemning the age-old, iron-clad code against "snitching," of cooperating with police and telling what you know when it's the right thing to do.

"To hell with this code of silence," Rouson said, encouraging anyone who knows of a teenager with a gun to step up and tell someone, and he's right, if anyone's listening. To those who have lived by this, enough. A little girl is dead for no reason. The police can't do it alone, can't fix all the struggles of a city without help from the people who live in it. Enough.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon spoke, too, of better-news statistics for Bartlett Park even in the face of the pointless and violent death of the most innocent of bystanders, a little kid who had gone to bed.

He also talked about the senselessness of assault rifles on our streets — guns, he said, that have the sole purpose of killing people. Period.

Now is a good time for some of us to argue gun control, given the semiautomatic AR-15 rifles police say heavily armed men used to open fire at the house that night, the kind of guns some enthusiasts fear our new president will take away.

Others will no doubt use what happened here to push for even more heavy-handed measures in court, like 10-20-Life, and mandatory minimum sentences that take power and discretion away from the judges and prosecutors we elect for that very purpose.

Since there can be no good answer to why this happened, the question is only this: What will really change after a little girl died for nothing?

How will we answer for a wasted life? 04/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 9:42pm]
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