• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Brutality In The Federal City, And Other Thoughts

There are certain scenes to which, no matter the frequency at which I’m exposed to them, nor the commonness of their display, I think I’ll never be fully inured. Despite how often I view them, and despite my familiarity with the morbid content on which their viral infamy rests, these are the types of scenes to which, although shared by millions on the internet as though a daily, mundane contagion widely spread, I simply can’t accustom myself. Perhaps I’ve not yet built an immunity sufficient to withstand their repeated assault. Perhaps I never will.


Such is the fate, I’ve come to accept, of someone like me—someone possessed of a rather delicate spirit, a tranquil soul atop which, in their organic tangle and meaty abundance, some large pulsing bundle of muscles, shaking pile of bones, and thinning field of flesh is lightly layered. Indeed, that numinous organ (yet unmentioned in our lifeless anatomy books) around which this curving terrain of skin and sinew, this bumpy soil of muscle and bone so hesitantly wraps, is none but a vulnerable soul, the very sacred, center of life.


I once gazed upon it, in a fleeting moment of introspection and depth, of awe and religion, and I feel as though I’m now apprised of the wordless constitution by which my astonished eyes were met. If only for a second, I caught sight of that obscure document, that unblemished founding tablet on which the meaning of all life, undisclosed yet essential, is written. It’s carved in ink ineffable. If I read it correctly, I saw my soul’s dimensions and its shape. I saw its gossamer fibers and diaphanous shield, and I noticed it resisted no intrusion and was very easily hurt. It yielded to every depraved sight. Its walls were defenseless to so many ugly scenes.


Alas, mine is a rarefied, yielding, somewhat precious psyche through which, with but a single exhalation, or one stifled cough, even the gentlest breeze might easily rip.


And so, having been exposed as of late to so many violent winds of murder, destruction, depravity, nihilism, belligerence, evil, and death, these howling gusts of terrible stories before which even the best proportioned and heartiest of men would find it difficult stand, it’s no surprise that my spirit is not only wobbly, but badly damaged. Just recall, if you dare, the images of the last few weeks—images from which, if you’re anything like me, your battered and shaken mind can’t easily be re-righted.


We saw the quiet streets of Atlanta ensanguined with innocent blood. In the waning hours of the night, still kindled by the flames of the coming springtime heat, they gasped for answers beneath this crimson pool. They played host, without knowing it, to a heinous crime of lust, a savage cry of passion by which that part of the city will forever be stained. In a string of attacks on massage parlors of somewhat seedy repute, eight people were killed, of whom a disproportionate six were Asian. The assailant, a white man of twenty-one years, was detained nearly two hundred miles from the spot.


We saw, only days later, an assault on a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado—that mountain-strewn state to which, between Columbine, Aurora, and now Boulder, one’s mind can’t but leap the moment the phrase “mass shooting” is uttered. The man responsible for killing ten of that peaceful city’s daughters and sons (who were, so far as I can tell, also his fellow citizens) was a young immigrant from the notoriously restive state of Syria. He seems not to have been unpersuaded by that country’s prevailing, militant creed, an aggressive religious doctrine in whose name impressionable young men are particularly willing to kill.


With hands imbrued with the blood of his victims, and a leg splintered by the debilitating accuracy of a policeman’s shot, the twenty-one-year-old killer emerged alive from the store through which he rampaged. Contrasted with the Atlanta killer, of whose despicable motives we’ve since been informed, we wait to learn the reason why the Boulder killer committed his egregious offense against humankind. Notes left on his Facebook page indicate a religious inspiration, but this is a conclusion to which we should be slow to jump.


About a week later, perhaps the grimmest, most unforgettable video was released to viewing public, now cringing it is seat. It captured a pair of black teenage girls in Washington D.C.—startlingly precocious in their application of violence—carjacking in broad daylight an aged Pakistani man. They first threatened him with a stun gun, a simple yet powerful device by which the sixty-six-year-old Mohammed Anwar was, as the crude film makes clear, sufficiently intimidated. Under the threat of the gun’s electric shock, a numbing charge by which even the robust man in the prime of his life is rendered limp, he exited his vehicle. It was at this point that the pair of callow thieves and unlicensed drivers took his place, started the car’s engine, and accelerated toward a terrible end.


Anwar, recognizing the impossibility of abandoning a vehicle on which—if only for the continuation of his modest work as an Uber Eats delivery man—his family’s meager income so desperately relied, opted to hold onto the driver’s side door. He can’t be blamed, given the extraordinary circumstances, for having maintained his grip. The brazen teens, heedless of his clinging presence, and confident in their yet unproven ability to operate a speeding car, darted from the original spot at which it was parked. They slammed into a nearby lamppost, by which Anwar was surely crushed. They then continued a short distance, before attempting to navigate, at far too high a rate of speed, a sharp right turn.


Conceding to the rigid laws of physics, that unbending book of rules from which none, not even the youthful criminal, is exempt, the car flipped over. It landed on its driver’s side, that very same side to which, but moments ago, the valiant Anwar so daringly clung. When the man filming this scene re-joined the disaster, less than a city block whence it all began, a display as sad as wicked presented itself to a shocked and horrified world. Immediately, it etched itself into the conscience of every individual capable of feeling, and forced him to doubt if, truly, man is deserving of the sanctified and godly status with which he’s wont to flatter himself.


Turned on its side was the stolen vehicle; splayed on the sidewalk was the dying Anwar; ambling indecisively were some fatigue-clad national guardsmen; and pacing in nervous unease were the two teenagers who could think of nothing more important than the prompt retrieval of their stranded cellphones. Indeed, one nearly stepped over the folded body of the man whom she just killed, for whose premature death she was directly responsible, if only more expeditiously to be reunited with her little buzzing Apple or Android device.


Their prioritization of their phones over the life of the man whom they’d just killed was stunning. It was the triumph of selfishness over pity, of cold, blunt savagery over the warm civility of fellow feeling. Darkened, suddenly, was that divine spark by which I once thought us all equally to be lit. Severed, irreparably, was that long, taut string by which I once thought us all tightly to be bound.


I’m still having difficulty reconciling myself to her anxious inquiry in search of her phone, all while the crumpled body of Anwar laid in so unnatural a way. Watching it, I was nearly left speechless; I never realized barbarity could take so banal a form. I never thought people so young could be so callous and so blasé after having committed, in the light of day, a horrific murder. In my attempt to contextualize this, and to ground it somewhere in my understanding, I could draw only one connection, and it was a literary one: I was reminded of the inhumane bearing of the fictional Raskolnikov, the soulless wretch with whom the great Dostoyevsky, for all eternity, succeeded in disquieting the Christian world.


These two girls succeeded in doing much the same. Only in their case, it wasn’t some nameless, surly landlady whom they opted to kill, but a pious member of the Muslim community, a faithful husband to a grieving wife, an industrious employee of Uber Eats, and—if we can even still recognize the type—a genuine and proud American.


I might also mention, if only briefly, the nausea I felt when watching the reaction of the national guardsmen, a supposedly necessary contingent by whom, since early January, the federal city, our beloved seat of government, has been populated. I almost erred and said “protected”, but this clearly wouldn’t have been the right choice of verb, for I highly doubt if that crime-ridden city is actually safer with them there, than it will be in their absence. The insouciance they showed toward Anwar, to whose motionless posture they were completely inattentive, and to whose moribund state, they were utterly incurious, is inexplicable.


For the past year and a half, I’ve read about and watched so many gruesome and inhumane scenes. A sensitive soul, such as mine, can’t be expected to endure many more. From the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the middle of a road by a vigilante father-and-son duo, to the killing of Aaron Danielson—also in the middle of a road—by the gun-wielding, Antifa-endorsing Michael Reinoehl, to the killing of the retired police officer Daniel Dorn, whose final, inglorious seconds of life were captured and streamed as if a frivolous Facebook story, to rioters in New York—in both the Erie-touching Buffalo, and the Hudson-hugging Manhattan—running down police officers in their cars; and now this: two mass shooters, and two wicked teenage girls.


I fear I’ll not soon adjust to these terrible sights and, sadly, I fear there will be more to come. I’m bracing myself for more spiritual damage, before the year is through.

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