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The Light of Day
By Frank Gruber
"The whole reason for parties is that parents aren't there." -- A friend of Deanna Maran, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times a few days after her death.
As I reported last week, my twelve-year-old Henry broke his arm snowboarding. The Saturday after we returned to Santa Monica, Henry's soccer team had a tournament in Torrance. This soccer team is the first tournament team Henry has been on in any sport, and, even though he couldn't play because of his injury, he wanted to travel with the team.
The coach kept him busy with a clipboard, keeping track of who took shots on goal.
Players and parents all went to lunch at a nearby Coco's. We took over a long table, parents at one end, boys at the other.
As happens when ten parents find themselves together, a big discussion ensued, along the lines of how can we protect our kids from the violence, sexual imagery, and general chaos purveyed by TV, movies, music, electronic games and all the rest.
The discussion went back and forth. At a certain point, after I recalled the limited universe of popular culture choices we parents grew up with -- for example, television that consisted of just three heavily censored networks -- I found myself sputtering, "I hate the good old days."
Thinking back, though, afterwards, I wondered if I had been rash. My gut tells me that more freedom is good, but do I have evidence?
What is better (or worse) -- the vulgarity of MTV, or censoring Elvis Presley's hips?
Does having more choices make a better society, when so many of those choices are dehumanizing?
One's answer depends, no doubt, on one's view about whether society is better. I believe that today's culture that celebrates freedom to live as one likes, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, politics, religion, etc., is both improved over the tightly-wound and hierarchical social compact of 50 years ago, and inseparable from the explosion in media and expression.
One can disagree.
And you may ask: Am I, being the father of only a twelve-year-old, qualified to answer the question? Perhaps you want me to ask the question again in three years.
That's when Henry will be fifteen, just the age of the boy who last week took his mother's Jeep Cherokee out for a spin on Arizona Avenue, with four friends as passengers, and crashed into eight parked vehicles. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (A great example of the "moral luck" that I wrote about last week.)
Fifteen was also the age of both Deanna Maran and the girl she argued with about flower pots at the party in Westwood.
Fifteen was also the age of the boy I quoted above, on the reason for parties.
When I read that statement, I found it unbelievable, but my wife suggested that I probably had the same views when I was fifteen.
Although at the time I was confident of my invincibility, the sixties were not a particularly safe time to be an adolescent, either.
When a terrible and unexpected crime occurs, people want to understand it, and the tendency is to make generalizations. Partly this is constructive -- Deanna Maran's parents, for instance, believe her death reflects disturbing social trends, and they have tried to use her death to attack violence as a social phenomenon.
But if we go too far, and see every pathological act as the result of social forces, then we tend to erode the sense of individual responsibility everyone -- at least every sane person -- has for his or her own actions. In the process we probably make misjudgments about society, too.
Usually, when it comes to crimes, we can rely on the justice system to pursue the issue of individual responsibility.
Deanna's killer, however, killed herself the next day. While her suicide is itself evidence of mental imbalance, Katrina Sarkissian's death means there will be no trial and no public examination of the events, and the life, that culminated in her being at an unsupervised party with a knife.
The District Attorney has determined that the state has only enough credible evidence to charge Sarkissian's half-sister, a juvenile, with crimes that are not serious enough to cause the proceedings to be open to the public. It appears that unless there are civil suits, there will be no public proceedings to determine what happened.
"The people have a right to know." A crime is public event. Had Katrina lived, and even if she had been tried as a juvenile, her trial would have been public, because of the magnitude of the crime.
Although we need to respect the privacy rights of juveniles, the DA should find a way to release the results of the police investigation to provide the public with a credible account of what happened. Perhaps the DA could blot out the names of all juveniles. Now that Katrina Sarkissian is dead, and her privacy is no longer an issue, the DA should disclose any information the police obtained that could illuminate her actions that night.
Evidence can still be relevant even if it is not sufficient to justify prosecution.
Otherwise, we are awash in rumors, which do no one any good, least of all the families of all the young people involved.
The Marans live down the block from me, and since Deanna's death we have become friendly. I don't mean to plead their case, but one can imagine what it is like not knowing what happened, hearing one thing, hearing another.
The others involved, not only the families of Katrina Sarkissian and her half-sister, and the girl herself, but also the family at whose house the killing occurred, have been largely silent. No doubt they have their own grief to deal with, and probably frustration with, if not anger at, their bad moral luck. No doubt they are concerned about their own responsibility.
But it is hard for me to understand how not knowing what happened will help them in any way to "deal with it," whatever it was or whatever it in the future may be.
As for us, the public? We need to know, because we need to deal with it, too.
Next Tuesday evening City Council will take up again the Civic Center Plan. City Hall Chambers. Arrive early if you want a seat.
views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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