James Jones, 21, was shot and killed Feb. 12. He was an outstanding young man, majoring in chemistry at Clark Atlanta University. The university reports that he combined his pursuit of scholarship and community service in a very admirable manner. His peers report that he was quite generous in sharing his knowledge of chemistry and often tutored some of them when asked.
Why is he dead? The short answer is that he wanted a good deal on an iPhone 6 and found one on Craigslist that he went to buy and was killed in the process. But the short answer is not enough. There are several answers to this question which I want to explore a bit today.
Another one, which has been offered, is that the young alleged shooters were just controlled by evil. I suppose that is certainly a part of the truth. They were Jordan Banks, 18, Jonathan Myles, 19, and Kaylnn Ruthenberg, 21. They appear to have been having difficulty finding their way in the world. One of them was already scheduled to be in court on another criminal matter before their arrest for armed robbery, aggravated assault and felony murder. Regardless of their family history, educational background or any other external reason that might be considered, it is reasonable to conclude that they have not been able to come to terms with their reason for being on Earth. Perhaps better choices of paths have been given to them, but they have been unable to choose a positive one. If one does not want to be in turmoil as I have been over the past few weeks about this issue, it will suffice to simply assign their behavior to evil.
But, when looking more deeply, there seems to be more to consider than mere evil, though that is quite a powerful motivation. These three young men more than likely lived in what Thomas Merton calls, “alienated space,” in his essay, “Letter to a White Liberal.” This is space where one does not feel there is a possibility of managing one’s life. It is impossible to have an empowered life in this space. One does not have a sense of having a place and does not have a vision of the way ahead that can lead to a fully functioning and positive life. However, this space does not prevent folks who are living in it from observing the culture around them and wishing to have what looks like a better life. So the idea of taking from others becomes a way to respond to the urge to have some of what others seem to have that makes their lives appealing.
In some ways, James Jones’ murder was a hate crime. A hate crime committed by three young men who on some rather deep psychic level hate themselves. A person does not take the life of another person without having the capacity for deep self-hatred. When a person is connected to their own spirit and heart, the idea of violating another person is unnecessary. James Jones represented a person living an empowered life. Though it did not have to be James Jones who showed up to answer their Craigslist ad because any person who showed up would have been their victim because that person had the resources to be trying to buy an iPhone and they had nothing themselves but a bad idea about how to live.
Consumerism is not innocent in this matter either. James Jones’ desire to have a later version of a phone that he more than likely already owned led him into this situation, and he is certainly not alone in being caught in the trap of consumerism. It is the capitalist way. The accused are caught in the same trap.
Now their lives are essentially over. Years of prison and possible death sentences. So four young people died Feb. 12. We need to grieve for all of them.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at email@example.com.