He is a young black man. He had been convicted of murder. It was sentencing day.
Darnell X. Moore just turned 24. He’ll be lucky to get out of prison alive, thanks to the 53-year prison term the judge imposed. Perhaps he should be grateful; the judge did not impose the maximum sentence of 60 years.
Many will read this and think I am wasting my time writing about a convicted murderer and expecting anything but scorn. He chose to kill. He is therefore still lucky to be among the living. Prison, some will say, is too good for him.
Who taught us to hate?
I understood that the victim’s family members would be angry, although not one of them appeared at sentencing. They’ve lost a loved one, forever, over a trifling argument.
But why are the rest of us so quick to condemn this man-child, Darnell Moore?
Closing arguments were in Norwich on the day Adam Lanza slaughtered 26 people, 20 of them elementary schoolchildren, in Newtown. We learned of the shootings on the lunch break, just before the jury was to begin deliberating. It was a horrible coincidence.
The trial was brutal. Moore and the victim argued over a bottle of liquor. The older man, whom folks referred to as an O.G., or “original gangster,” was on the rebound after a term in prison. There was some pushing, shoving and then angry words. My client left the scene, promising to return, one witness said.
Not long afterward, he was back. “I told you I’d be back,” he said, as he fired point-blank into the man’s neck. That’s what the state argued, although no witness ever saw a gun in my client’s hand .
Another young man removed a gun from the waistband of the victim and then ran off into the night with it.
Where’d these guns come from? How is it a young man with a felony record and no job was able to find a handgun so quickly? Where’d the dead felon get his gun? Why is it that so many young men today settle with guns scores that used to be resolved with fists?
As the trial progressed, I raged. A conviction would result in the loss of a second life, with my client consigned to a box in prison for decades. Moore blossomed during trial, responding to small acts of kindness as though he had never been shown simple love before. I fought hard to keep him free.
Why aren’t more people outraged about easy access to guns?
Guns aren’t a public health problem when the victims are young black men. We tolerate violence in urban areas. The underclass, is after all, expendable. I’ve heard people refer to “public service killings” when one drug dealer shoots another — it’s a twofer of sorts, one dead, the other locked up for life.
Would we be so glib if the sons and daughters of white suburbanites were dropping one another like so many bad habits?
We know the answer. Newtown mobilized the gun-control lobby. Innocent children killed. In school.
It’s been bad enough for a long time in Chicago, Detroit, Bridgeport and New Haven. Ask the mother of a 20-year-old whose son’s been shot dead. But don’t stop there: Ask the mother of the young man convicted of murder. Two lives are lost.
How many guns are enough in the United States? We’ve more guns per capita than anywhere else, some 80 per 100 people. We refuse meaningful regulation of these lethal tools, however. Gun manufacturers make record profits. Dealers score their take selling to a scared and angry public. These guns too often and without consequence find their way onto city streets, often traded for narcotics after being stolen from daddy’s gun locker in suburbia.
We ought to have a national registry of gun ownership. Register each gun by serial number, and keep track of the gun as it passes from owner to owner. Fine a gun manufacturer $100,000 each time one of its guns is used in an unlawful shooting; fine distributors $10,000, and each registered owner $5,000. Watch how quickly guns disappear from urban streets once it becomes clear that along with the privilege of gun ownership comes consequences for irresponsibility.
The gun lobby will cry foul at such a suggestion. Why, that gives government too much power. If authorities know who each gun owner is, that makes it easier for big brother to swoop in and take them.
Good grief, take off the tinfoil hats. When is the last time a gun was used in an act of domestic political protest?
We are violent people. We were violent when we abducted the first slave in West Africa for shipment across the ocean. We were violent when we stocked black men and women in tight holding pens for the crossing. We were violent when we lynched the black souls who defied Jim Crow, when we tolerated a society dedicated to the proposition that separate can be equal. We are violent when we sentence young men to lifetime sentences for impulsive acts.
We love violence; we tolerate slaughter in cities, but not when it reaches into the suburbs. Then we cry foul, and arm ourselves for more gore.
Guns are the new opiate of the people. Arm yourself. Go ahead. But don’t dare raise larger questions about what’s going on.
Questions might be dangerous.