Signs of Peace Through Action

Reflection: Too Old to Die

I gasped as I read the headline. The front page of the August 9, 2017 print issue of the Washington Post carried an article titled “97-year old’s slaying a sign of Baltimore’s deep distress.” What caught my attention was not Baltimore’s deep distress (that has been heavily covered in the media…and it also overlooks the many wonderful qualities of Baltimore and its denizens), but “97-year old’s slaying.” What! 97!  Who kills a 97-year old! (Murder of elders is uncommon. Of the 13,455 U.S. murder and nonnegligent manslaughter victims in 2015, 279, or two percent, were aged 75 and older.[1])

The Post reports that the victim, Wendell Tate, “was bludgeoned to death in his pajamas” during a July 21 home burglary. The visceral image of an elder gentleman slaughtered in his overnight clothes suggests to me (an admittedly mere lay person inexperienced in criminal investigations) that Mr. Tate was in no condition either to incite the violence against him nor to defend himself against his attacker(s). Which then leads me to believe that the attacker(s), on a burglary mission, may have added intentional killing just for kicks.

So back to the question. Who kills a 97-year old?! Can one be so depraved that not even a family and neighborhood elder would be spared from one’s hate?

And then another question follows. What was lacking from the assailant(s) life that caused them to fatally harm another? If and when the murderer(s) are captured, we may get some answers. I predict we will learn the perpetrator has experienced adverse childhood experiences. They will have lacked consistent modeling of emotional regulation at home, school, and/or in their community. And they may have a record of committing other violence.

What’s so unusual about that? Other people fit that profile. But most don’t go on to take another’s life. That’s because other factors in play, among them values, social and emotional capacity, affirmative role models, and elevated community norms, propel most of us toward positive behaviors or at least thwart our worst.

I grasp for such optimism while I continue to gasp from horror over the murder of an old man. How can I believe in goodness when the senseless death of Mr. Tate is staring straight at me?

I believe in human goodness because for each Wendell Tate gone too soon, far more of us were not killed on July 21. We lived another day. And another day. And another day after that. And with each day of living comes the responsibility to continue to be minimally not murderers, and hopefully much better than that! We achieve our full potential as loving people by, among other choices, learning and then passing along values that uplift all beings, practicing emotional control, serving as examples of kindness for others, and holding others accountable to expectations of good behaviors.

We all have the potential for positive behavior. And we must achieve that potential through consistent peaceful action. In so doing we who live another day can serve as living memorials to those who did not due to acts of violence, including Wendell Tate, a human being who was too old to die.

Bob Reeg, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Peace Through Action USA

[1] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2016). Crime in the United States, 2015. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice.