MAXWELL: If silence prevails in killing, justice won’t

4/3/2008 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

I rarely read obituaries or memorials and tributes to the deceased. I do not like reading about death. Unaccountably last Tuesday, I turned to the obit page in the St. Petersburg Times.
In the memorials and tribute section, my eyes were immediately drawn to the photograph of a smiling face I recognized. It was the face of Amuel Murph, the words “Love you, family & friends” above it. The text of the memorial was heartbreaking: “We miss you Daddy. Happy 1st Birthday with God. We don’t understand, but justice will prevail. Love you. Daughters, Tangela and Terri.”
What a loving and curious expression, “Happy 1st Birthday with God,” I thought, realizing that Amuel Murph, 68 when he was slain last July, was born on April 1. His daughters were commemorating the day of his birth, not the day of his death.
The other expression, “but justice will prevail,” was not curious at all. It was the profound hope that their tragedy would reach closure, that their father’s killers would be caught, tried and convicted.
I cannot say that Amuel Murph was a friend. He was not. I knew him only casually, when we greeted each other at the St. Petersburg post office on First Avenue N, where he was employed before his retirement. What I remember most about him was that infectious smile, the wave of the hand and his sincere “hello.”
On the books, Amuel Murph is a mere statistic, another black person murdered in a black neighborhood, another black victim whose killers may never be identified and apprehended because other blacks refuse to talk to the police.
Off the books and in the lives of his relatives and friends, Amuel Murph’s death is a painful personal loss, an event that has changed the core of how they live. Off the books, Amuel Murph had a face. He was a loving father and a devoted husband. He was a valued colleague and a trusted friend to many.
The loss of such a man is personal, causing unspeakable grief. That grief is one of the little-discussed realities in Midtown, Childs Park and other predominantly black communities where crime is taken for granted.
Personal loss and grief are vague abstractions in a world where manhood is measured by traits found on the underside of life – fearsomeness, disrespect for normality and authority, rejection of civility and contempt for the rights of others.
For too many young black males, who count disproportionately among the dead and among the killers, manhood is measured by time spent in prison. Instead of fearing the police, these young males see cops as problems to outwit, to avoid or to fight when the time comes.
Amuel Murph’s daughters believe that justice will prevail. I do not, if justice depends on people who disdain decency to come forward, if it depends on people who accept and expect silence.
Doubtless, silence has become a badge of honor. Among young black males in particular, it is a must if you value your life and the lives and safety of your relatives.
I have written many times that Mayor Rick Baker and police Chief Chuck Harmon cannot save black people from themselves. They cannot force those who know Amuel Murph’s killers to speak up. They cannot change a culture that values the creed of silence and the use of guns to solve problems and to assert manhood. In a March 31 column published in the Times, Baker all but pleaded with blacks to participate in their own salvation.
Meanwhile, Amuel Murph’s family and friends hope for justice to prevail. I share their hope of seeing the killers behind bars. I do not believe it will happen, however, because of the culture of silence and indifference.