Tuesday, September 13, 2005

esmie chronicles: context

Such odd juxtapositions in Kansas City.

This morning I was standing in the hallway of the Johnson County Courthouse, in suburban Kansas, eavesdropping on a group of adults who had attended a brief, procedural hearing in the case of Esmie Tseng, who is accused of stabbing her mother to death. The adults all seemed to be deeply moved by the case, and were interested in seeing the appropriate form of justice brought to the situation. It's safe to say that their mood was deeply sad. There were a number of misty eyes in the crowd.

Then, a few hours later, I went to Kansas City Central High School, like I do most afternoons, to help the debate squad. The mood in the room was upbeat. The kids were all into building their cases. (Esmie was a debater, BTW.)

Then, about 20 minutes into practice, one of the kids said to me, rather cavalierly -- and, if I'm not mistaken, with a smile -- that one of their fellow students slashed another student's throat earlier that day.

I've been going to Central most afternoons for the better part of three years, and I've heard from time to time about violence breaking out during the school day. But never anything as bad as this.

Yet there was no somber mood. No grief or trauma counselors, like they had at Blue Valley North after news of Esmie's arrest spread. I don't have a sense that grown-ups from the community will appear at this kid's inevitable court hearings to show their support and sorrow. And I doubt that my blog will receive hundreds of hits a day from people wanting info about the situation, as is the case with my Esmie posts.

It's a top story on the evening news, of course; the local TV news hacks seem to love to cover stories of violence at Central High while ignoring the deeper cognitive and institutional violence that occurs there day in and day out.

I gleaned some sketchy details about the alleged slasher, namely that he was a troubled kid, perhaps with mental problems, but that he was, by all appearances, nice and seemingly harmless.

But, as with Esmie, there's a whole history here, and it's an adolescent's history, and somewhere in the core of it is an unclear, painfully nuanced lesson about juvenile justice. Social justice, really.

Such odd juxtapositions, though few experience them.

There are separate universes -- many, many of them -- operating side by side in this mid-sized American metropolis.

Am I wrong to grasp at connections amid such disconnectedness?

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