Monday, November 22, 2010

Every Murder Victim Has A Story: Joseph Sharps and Delvonte Tisdale (UPDATED)

The national and local media selectively cover to the lives of homicide victims. In a country as populous as the United States and with such a large number of murders, every victim cannot become headline news.

While the volume of homicides limits extensive coverage of each case, other factors like race, gender and class distinguish widely reported cases from those that remain submerged. While upper-class and white female homicide victims like Natalie Holloway and Chandra Levy continue to receive extensive media attention, scores of other victims are reduced to tiny blurbs in local and national media. Despite this disparate coverage, every victim has a story.

Joseph Alonzo Sharps
Joseph Alonzo Sharps, 17-year-old, was murdered on November 8th in Washington, DC. His best friend was wounded in the shooting.

In many ways, Joseph's murder fits a typical -- yet gruesome -- pattern of homicide in DC, in which the victims are largely poor, black, young and male. But Joseph's case stands out because it received coverage in one extensive article in the Washington Post. In most instances, victims like Joseph are reduced to a few sentences extracted from a local police blotter. Joseph's parents, however, refused to allow their son to become another "statistic."

Joseph's obituary provides some details of his short life:
Joseph enjoyed Math and was an honor student during middle and high school. In 2004, Joseph received the "Edison Leadership Award." He spent his leisure time with his friends as well his best friend “Bilbro” playing Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Often on holidays you would find “Little Joe” with his cousins waiting in anticipation to feast on his mother’s famous macaroni and cheese. Joseph was a Dallas Cowboy fan and enjoyed watching the Cowboys defeat the Redskins. He was also a Lakers and Yankees fan. Joseph always dreamed of attending the Cowboys vs. Redskins game in Dallas. Joseph was known for wearing his mix match socks in bright colors and watching ESPN. Joseph had the spirit of an entrepreneur and his long term goal was to own a sports channel. Although Joseph had a passion for sports, his desire was to be a commentator and not a participator in the game. Joseph was very candid in his conversations and was willing to share his ideas and thoughts to all who were willing listen.
Washington Post writer Paul Duggan provides more insight regarding Joseph in a very passionate article:
Cynthia Sharps [Joseph's mother], a home health-care aide, said she set boundaries for Little Joe.

"He knew my policy: No drugs, no alcohol. And I'd get after him about language. You know, he did the slang words, that street language. I'd say, 'You have to learn how to talk!' And he'd say, 'Don't worry, Ma, when I go somewhere, I know how to talk.'"

"He wasn't allowed outside late at night," she said. "The children Little Joe has been around, they all come from good families. They stay off the streets. They play sports. They go to school. All of them are school-minded, to go to college. . . ."
According to Joseph's mother, he was an honors student. After high school, Joseph dreamed of attending New York University or a school in Florida. Joseph wanted to study finance -- not to play sports. His ambitions, however, were cut short by a bullet. Police have not identified any suspects or a motive.

Delvonte Tisdale (UPDATED: SEE BELOW)
Delvonte Tisdale, a 16-year-old, was found dead in Milton, Massachusetts late last week. The circumstances surrounding Delvonte's murder continue to unfold.

Delvonte's case has received some attention in the national press -- possibly because police found his body in a wealthy suburb of Boston. Police said that Delvonte's body was so badly mutilated that they could not even guess what caused his death. Milton police found a hall pass in Delvonte's pocket that allowed them to connect his body to a missing person's case that his father filed in North Carolina.

Delvonte lived in North Carolina with his father and step-mother. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, he moved to North Carolina a few months ago. Delvonte enrolled in Junior ROTC, and made many new friends at his high school.

According to some family members, however, Delvonte did not like living in North Carolina, and he wanted to return to Baltimore. One member of his family said that Delvonte often fought with his father, even coming to blows at some points.

Family members believe that Delvonte ran away from home. According to some news reports, Delvonte said he was going to catch a ride to Baltimore with two "friends" who were driving from North Carolina to Boston. The next day, Delvonte was found dead in Milton -- the victim of a vicious homicide.

Some of Delvonte's distraught family members have expressed their anger and sadness on Facebook. Meanwhile, police are working to solve the mystery surrounding Delvonte's untimely death.

We Should Never Treat Murder As Routine
Violent crimes are often treated as routine and ordinary in the United States. When the victims are black, young, male and poor, they rarely draw attention from the public.

Everyone, however, has a stake in creating solutions to violence wherever it occurs. Murder is a general societal problem -- not simply a law enforcement or legal problem.

If any murder becomes part of the uncomplicated status quo, then the rest of society loses part of its own humanity. For this reason, I celebrate and mourn the lives of Joseph Sharps, Delvonte Tisdale, and many other victims of homicide. Focusing on their suffering allows me to reclaim and assert my own humanity and dignity.

Although Delvonte's death was initially reported as a homicide, investigators have concluded that he "likely" was a stowaway in the wheel well of a commercial airline. When the jet opened its landing gear, Delvonte fell to the ground, and the impact of the fall probably caused the severe damage to his body.

This is a tragic story. Now investigators must determine how Delvonte managed to breach security and board a commercial airline undetected.


AngelaD said...

Thanks Darren. I hope you will continue to tell the stories of these young black men (and women) whose lives are so devalued in the media and elsewhere.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Yes - women too! I have been so distraught doing research on homicide statistics for some work I hope to complete in the near future. Blogging allows me to educate and relieve some of the anxiety. Thanks, Angela.

pfairMSW said...

Darren, Thank you for adding a face to these two young black men whose lives were ended too soon. It grieves me to see the plight of our children, with this senseless taking of lives.
Again thank you,

Hippi Chicki Niki said...

Thank you for giving attention to the victims our society ignores and for making these young men real instead of just part of a statistic.

Infidel753 said...

Almost as bad as the reducing of victims to statistics is the way our society treats the most notorious murderers as pseudo-celebrities (Manson, Ramires, Gacy, etc.). It's the victims, and only the victims, who deserve to be remembered.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Infidel: I always found that very strange.

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