Heartbreaking Echoes of Miller Place

United States

 

Newsday ( New York)

February 11, 2008

 

By Katti Gray  

My column the other week on why I, too, believe that John White of Miller Place should be granted a new trial, and how race suffuses and blankets this all-around tragedy, provoked a mound of e-mail from readers. Some shared my point of view, some opposed it, some articulated a level and quality of reasoning I had not considered but which aid in my private fleshing out of this wretched mess.

Those who put their reactions in words also made it plain whether they wanted to engage in a further, necessary discussion on this matter, which, on every side, breaks someone’s heart. The most vitriolic rants, sad to say, tended also to be rife with stereotypes, partial truths and flat-out falsities, the brand of disinformation that provides comfort and cover for certain people. In several instances, my position on the White case triggered nothing short of run-on hysterics:  

"You need to look in the mirror and maybe if you cleaned up your own neighborhoods, your own schools, then the rest of the world might welcome you into their neighborhoods with open arms instead of selling their homes and moving away. How come blacks can have free speech, but everyone else can’t? Not too many people will say it to your face, but most people are forced to work and live with you. If white people really had a choice, they would choose not to … " wrote someone signing off as Alan Katz, and broad-brushing black folks in the worst kind of way.

"You have a responsibility as a journalist to embrace communities and promote harmony and overlook your own personal and family shortcomings. You fail to probably comprehend the importance of your craft, sadly a result I am sure of affirmative action," wrote Anthony, who left off his last name and, in his missive, tried to connect many dots. "The North has always been compliant of fairness." Those are Anthony’s exact words. (I trust that he believes them, laying aside the historical facts of slave auctions and race riots smack dab in New York City back in the 1800s.)  

People in newsrooms subscribe to this well-founded presumption: A single citizen with the wherewithal to respond to an item aired or printed represents a cavalcade of individuals who are also aroused by the item but don’t bother to state their opinion for the record. What I wrote about the White case raked over some already flayed nerves. And I am sharing here what I’ve selectively snipped from reader responses that fell into my e-mail inbox. But they might, more appropriately, be dispersed across a wider terrain where, more often than not, people willfully live next door to their own kind. To the extent that this habit allows a cloistered lot to foster and feed disinformation, this is unfortunate.

I’m not the only one who understands the perils of being a self-contained community. Far from vapid hysterics, another sampling of readers of that same column also wrote with questions and pleadings. It is fitting that I let them have the last word.  

"So many of your thoughts echo my own," wrote Maryellen Collins. "It is a sad, sad situation, a young man dead …because of a moment gone horribly awry, and two families ruined. There are no winners here."

"While many parts of this tragedy are debatable," wrote Rudy Rosenberg, "what isn’t is the fact that if there had been no guns in the house one 17-year-old would still be with us, and one father would not be [facing jail]. I’m sure all involved would be much happier today, right or wrong be damned."  

"The fact of the matter is that these kids had no business going to Mr. White’s house," wrote Frank, who also omitted his last name, "and Mr. White should have immediately called the police. … He deserves punishment but it shouldn’t be a long incarceration. Perhaps community service in lieu of prison time … where he can make a contribution to society. I am white, I am saddened by all of this, and I wish that our communities will heal."

 

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