I’ll never forget the night my wife and I walked out of Einstein Hospital after visiting a sick family member and found a couple we knew outside the emergency room. They were standing in the cold January air, holding each other and crying because a family member had been murdered.
I couldn’t imagine the grief they were experiencing. My offer of prayer felt hollow, but it was all I had to give.
As of January 16, there have been 15 homicides in Philadelphia, including that couples’ loved one. That’s a 42 percent drop from this time last year, according to police statistics. Still, 15 homicides is almost one per day.
Fifteen. It seems like such a small number, but suppose one those 15 was your father or your son, your uncle or your brother. Suppose you were the one standing outside an emergency room and trying to accept the finality, the cruelty, and the pain. Suppose one of those 15 was someone you loved. Would the number still seem small? Or would it seem insurmountable?
In a city where the poorest of us live in utter desperation, anger is the order of the day, and the impulsive ways in which that anger is expressed lead to murder. Murder rips communities in two. It destroys our social fabric. But perhaps most damaging is what murder does to families.
The families of victims must deal not only with the finality of death. They must deal with the process of mourning. They must learn to manage the grief. They must carry the heavy burden of knowing that their loved one was taken away by force.
This is not just about the families of the victims, however. It’s also about the perpetrators’ families. I’ve known law-abiding, hard working people who have raised murderers. I’ve watched individual actions bring entire families shame. I’ve watched such families grieve not only the imprisonment of their loved one, but the loss of the victim’s life.
I have heard murderers say that they are sorry for what they’ve done, and in most cases, I believe them. Unfortunately, their remorse does nothing for the victim, and while it might provide a measure of comfort for those left behind, it can never replace what’s been taken from a family.
That’s because our lives are interconnected, and we each play a role in each other’s lives. When one life is removed from a family, a role goes unfulfilled, and we lose the very things that define us as human beings.
We lose relationships, we lose connections, and in doing so, we lose ourselves. The value of such a losses can’t be calculated numerically. In fact, I’m not sure they can be calculated at all.
Unlike possessions, a life can never be replaced. It cannot be returned. That’s why murder is a crime whose damage can never be undone. Not for the victim, not for the perpetrator, and not for their families, either.
So while I’m happy that there has been a 42 percent reduction in the number of murders since this time last year, I am also leery of celebrating statistics.
Statistical reductions in homicides are admirable, but they can’t address the systemic issues that lead people to become murderers in the first place. Statistical victories won’t educate one child, or bring one father back into the home, or create one living wage job, or lift a single family out of poverty.
Try as we might, we can’t use statistics to heal the grieving families that stand outside emergency rooms on cold January evenings.
Only love can heal that kind of grief. And if we truly love our neighbors—if we honestly love ourselves—we’ll invest in stopping murders before they happen.
We can do that when we decide to support families before they lose their loved ones, because the comfort we give on the back end is not enough.