Hu­man mys­tery a key fac­tor in vi­o­lence

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Mitch Al­bom is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices. Mitch Al­bom Tues­days With Mitch

How well do we know any­body? Not well, it seems. Each week brings an­other hor­rific head­line and, with it, de­scrip­tions of those in­volved that of­ten con­flict with the facts.

Last Wed­nes­day, Detroit was rocked by the news of a grue­some quadru­ple mur­der. Gre­gory Green, 49, al­legedly killed his two young chil­dren with poi­son and shot his two older stepchil­dren in front of their mother, Green’s wife, whom he tor­tured and tied up in the base­ment.

As if that weren’t shock­ing enough, af­ter Green’s ar­rest we learned he had mur­dered be­fore — his first wife, 25 years ago. She was preg­nant at the time. He stabbed her to death.

De­spite that, peo­ple close to him had ac­tu­ally pleaded on his be­half. “I don’t be­lieve Gre­gory is a threat to so­ci­ety,” Green’s mother, Tom­mie Green, wrote to a judge in 1992. “I don’t be­lieve a long sen­tence will [make] him any bet­ter be­cause he has suf­fered al­ready and he will con­tinue to suf­fer the rest of his life .... ”

An­other woman, who claimed to work for the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions, wrote this to the judge be­fore Green was sen­tenced for sec­ond-de­gree mur­der: “Your honor, I know that Gre­gory is not a crim­i­nal, nor is he a threat to so­ci­ety.”

Yet last week, if the charges prove true, Green, who served 16 years in prison, re­mained the worst kind of threat to so­ci­ety — a deadly one.

How well do we know any­body?

How could they de­fend him, we won­der? How could his sec­ond wife have mar­ried him or started a fam­ily with him — given his past? Who knows?

You can’t blame fam­ily mem­bers for de­fend­ing their own. But cases like Green’s should wave a cau­tion flag at the me­dia’s knee-jerk prac­tice of quot­ing a mother, fa­ther, sib­ling or cousin in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of vi­o­lent in­ci­dents.

So of­ten we hear things like “He’s a fam­ily man,” or “He wouldn’t hurt any­body,” or “He loved sports and went to church.” Trou­ble is, these de­scrip­tions can run afoul of the facts.

Green’s mother now seems deadly wrong about her own son. The neigh­bor who told the me­dia that Michi­gan Uber driver Ja­son Dal­ton was “a good fam­ily man” seems clue­less, af­ter Dal­ton was ac­cused of killing six peo­ple. O.J. Simp­son? Os­car Pis­to­rius? Both highly es­teemed be­fore their mur­der charges.

How well do we know any­body?

Of course, the al­ter­na­tive is to get no per­sonal tes­ti­mony, just go by things like crim­i­nal records. But these can also be lim­it­ing. Dal­ton had no crim­i­nal record be­fore the shoot­ing spree. Nei­ther did Syed Rizwan Fa­rook, who, along with his wife, Tash­feen Ma­lik, killed 14 peo­ple and wounded 22 oth­ers dur­ing a ter­ror­ist at­tack in San Bernardino, Calif. Fa­rook was born in the U.S. and, un­til that day, could have ac­cu­rately been de­scribed as a law-abid­ing Amer­i­can citizen.

On the other hand, a few lines on a piece of pa­per — even if it’s a rap sheet — don’t tell a full hu­man story, ei­ther. If I used the words “a male in his 30s with two ar­rests on his record” you might flinch. But that’s also a fac­tual de­scrip­tion of Michael Phelps, the most dec­o­rated Olympian of all time, who, de­spite two DUI ar­rests, is con­sid­ered an Amer­i­can icon.

Which in­for­ma­tion paints the pic­ture?

Now con­sider Sue Kle­bold, the mother of Columbine High School killer Dy­lan Kle­bold. I’m pretty sure, be­fore that hor­rific day, she would have said she knew her boy. Now, in a book called “Far From the Tree” by An­drew Solomon, she said this:

“I used to think I could un­der­stand peo­ple, re­late and read them pretty well. Af­ter this, I re­al­ized I don’t have a clue what an­other hu­man be­ing is think­ing. We read our chil­dren fairy tales and teach them that there are good guys and bad guys. I would never do that now. I would say that every one of us has the ca­pac­ity to be good and the ca­pac­ity to make poor choices.”

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