Editorial: Cold cases, cold comfort

May 4, 2012
By

Two of Mission Hill’s cold-case murders were solved last month. There is comfort in that closure, but lingering dismay at the similarities between the horrifying crimes.

The prosecution stories strongly suggest that the murders of Rebecca Payne in 2008 and Demetrius Blocker in 2010 were cases of mistaken identity by drug dealers. Both victims were young with no signs of involvement in gangland. Both men charged with murder in the cases were already in prison for their participation in the drug trade.

The closing of these cases is a tribute to the dogged interest in truth underlying our criminal justice system, and so is the fact that the defendants will get fair trials and will go free if the state is wrong. If the prosecution theories are right, these cases are perfect examples of why we invented such a system. They describe an underworld where business interests are protected by open violence, where men with guns appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner in cases often built on quick impressions rather than reality.

Whether the state is right or wrong about that in these cases, it is certainly correct about how the drug trade works. It has brought violence to our neighborhood before and it will do so again.

Our criminal justice is about holding individuals accountable, and drawing social lessons from cases without a ruling is challenging at best. But it’s also natural. Both of these crimes, if we’re honest, were at first considered examples of everyday mindless urban violence.

But in the case of Rebecca Payne, we also have prosecutors introducing us to an alleged crack-buyer from the middle-class suburbs who, they say, drove the killer to the murder scene.

Some people are willing to kill and die for drugs because the money is good. The real question is why the demand is so high that the trade is that profitable. What kind of world are we making if one of our main goals is to numb it out?

These cases show that we have made a world where killing is easy, and where death can be this casually pointless and cruel.

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