Through no fault of his own, aspiring baseball player Christopher Lane of Australia was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The wrong place” was jogging on a street in Duncan, Oklahoma. The wrong time was when a trio of teens with random murder in their hearts happened to spy him and, deciding he would make a good target, shot him in the back and killed him.
The Lane murder is being used in a number of ways. The press is covering it because of the sensationalistic aspects: the perps were 15, 16, and 17, and the killing was the very definition of “senseless.” One of the killers, the 17-year-old Michael Dewayne Jones, said the victim had been chosen randomly and the motive was boredom.
And of course it goes almost without saying that anti-gun pundits are jumping on the bandwagon of more background checks, despite the fact that there is no indication whatsoever that a tightening of such laws would have had any effect on the ability of these teens to obtain a gun and commit the crime.
There are racial aspects as well. The victim was white. Two of the perps were black (James Francis Edwards Jr., 15, and Chancey Allen Luna, 16) and have been charged with first degree murder. But one appears from photos to be white and was charged with lesser offenses (“Michael Dewayne Jones, 17…was charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and with accessory to first-degree murder after the fact”). I write “appears to be white” because I have yet to find a newspaper that discusses the issue and actually identifies Jones in a manner that would tell us his racial or ethnic background. For that matter, one of the black perps appears, from the evidence of the photos in this article, to have a biological mother who is white.
Why do we care? Well, the connection between race and crime has certainly been an issue lately, hasn’t it? Neither our president nor Al Sharpton has decided to weigh in on this one yet, but others have certainly used it to make various points about race and crime. And because of the interracial aspects, and because the stated motive (or lack thereof) is so chilling—and do we take the perp’s word for it that it was actually boredom?—a racial motive is certainly a good possibility as well.
Almost everything about the true motive is speculation at this point, but I’ll add mine. This appears to have been a crime of opportunity; the fact that the victim was white was probably far from a drawback in the eyes of the perpetrators, but there’s no indication that it was a special motive, either.
The story of how the perps were apprehended after the killing might be relevant in evaluating the question:
James Johnson, 52, called the police to tell them that the accused killers were hiding in the car park of the Immauel Baptist Church car park at about 5pm, two hours after they allegedly shot Lane.
“My son called me and said, “They’re saying they’re coming to kill me,” so I called the police and they got here within about three minutes,” Johnson told the Herald Sun.
“They threatened to kill my son because they are in a gang, the Crips, and were trying to get my son in it and I wouldn’t let him do it.
“I told him he couldn’t run with those boys. He’s a little terrified.”
The article doesn’t mention the race of either James Johnson or his son in the text. But there’s a photo of the elder Johnson and he is black, so we can conclude that his son (and the trio’s next intended victim) is either black or of mixed race.
In summary: this does not appear to be a case of three otherwise fine upstanding youths who were bored one day and therefore decided to kill somebody. These were three boys in their mid-to-late teens who were loaded with gang- and rap-type braggadocio and petty criminal activity (from Facebook evidence as well as some previous encounters with the criminal justice system) who decided to escalate things and do some killing. Their first (and only) victim was a white stranger. Their second intended victim was a black acquaintance.
I have titled this post after the famous Dostoevsky novel Crime and Punishment, because that book contained an example of what might motivate a young perpetrator to commit a random and senseless act of violence in killing an elderly female pawnbroker. In the book the perpetrator Raskolnikov has complex philosophical inspirations; the Lane murder perps seem to have been motivated by nothing more than aimlessness and a popular climate and culture that glorifies thuggery.
Note, also, as contrast, the telling testimony of Mr. Johnson, a black father who seems to have been active in protecting his own son from such influences. Remember his words [emphasis added]: “they are in a gang, the Crips, and were trying to get my son in it and I wouldn’t let him do it. I told him he couldn’t run with those boys.”
Johnson is a hero for three reasons. The first is that it was his call to police that was responsible for the apprehension of Lane’s probable killers. The second is that by doing so he may have saved his own son from death. And the third is his example as a parent and involved father: aware and proactive, countering the destructive cultural forces that surround so many young people today.