Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Distancing selves from victims not realistic

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It was mid-morning on a pension-cheque Thursday and the elderly bank customer at the Pembina Highway CIBC was talking to a teller about the big overnight news.

Just up the road, mere hours earlier, three young men had been sitting at the Salisbury House restaurant when a lone gunman fatally shot one and wounded another in what police believe was a drug-related hit.

A television clip from the scene, showing first responders desperately pumping Jeffrey Michael Lau's chest and then loading the 23-year-old into an ambulance captured the sound of the third friend screaming for him to hold onto life.

"Keep fighting, man," his friend urged. "Keep fighting."

The pensioner was still talking about the shooting, and the kind of crime more commonly associated with other areas of the city.

"It's getting closer to home," he said. And even closer to home for a mother with a 22-year-old daughter who went to school with the three young men.

Which is why, early Friday morning, she opened her iPad and began the cathartic process of writing to a face in the newspaper. Starting by focusing her thoughts -- and anger -- on the title she placed in the subject line.

"The 'othering' of a life."

If the title hadn't gotten my attention, this would have.

"Please help me Gordon to improve the soul of the media. I cannot stand the coverage of this story. Here is mine."

The soon-to-be 50-year-old woman went on to describe how she had been in a hurry to get to an appointment Thursday morning when she left her South St. Vital home, jumped in her Mazda and raced off. She was approaching the Sals at Pembina and Stafford when she saw the cluster of police cruisers and recalled hearing something on the morning news about a shooting at 3 a.m.

Then her cell rang.

It was her daughter, abruptly, emotionally, choking out words about someone being dead.

"They shot him."

At first, the mother couldn't connect the dots. The daughter did it for her, bringing it all the way back to their home four years earlier.

"You know, Mom, they were at my 18th birthday party."

The daughter reminded her that one of them -- the one who had been shot and survived -- had spent the whole night in the kitchen.

The mother remembered that because he spent all that time talking to her.

And because he was so memorable; a polite, gracious kid who made eye contact instead of staring at his phone.

Good, likable kids all, she thought.

"Life goes on and we forget those boys who become men," the mother said.

But boys lose their way in the suburbs, too.

Because they are "others." Other people's problem kids.

Which brought her back to the other young man at Sals, the one who was imploring his dying friend to live.

"He is not an 'other,' " the mother wrote. "Only four years ago he was in my home. They were all in my home. They are not 'others,' they are not monsters. They were boys who turned into young men, made bad choices and will pay with their souls for the rest of their lives."

Later, I would speak with the daughter who sounded like someone twice her age.

Like her mother, in fact. As if she were one of her friend's parents.

"People do dumb things, people lose their way," the daughter said. "But you always kind of hope that they'll either turn things around or they'll, you know, change. Because these kids are from good families."

The daughter understands a lot of people -- mostly people who don't know them -- have no sympathy for the three young men.

"They've made some poor choices," she acknowledged again. "I'm not going to defend them and say that they're perfect. But people are so quick to say that they deserve to... "

The daughter paused for a moment. Then she finished her thought for herself, her mother and her friends.

"Like, who really deserves to die?"

The daughter was finished.

But the mother wasn't finished with me. Or with you.

"And when you crawl back into your suburban home tonight, comforted by the media and the Winnipeg police lulling our psyches into believing that it was gangs, drugs and 'others,' don't be fooled. A life has been taken in a tragic, violent way," she wrote.

"You are not an 'other' to me. You are my son, brother, nephew and friend. You are valued and I will wrap my arms around you and your family...

"I will not judge you with my corrected vision, or CK lenses, because I know that could have been my beautiful daughter or my nephew. I will reach out and cry with you for your unspeakable loss.

"You are not alone."

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2012 B1

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