As I recall, his name was Bernard Brown. Not a name known to many. He was a Black man standing at a bus stop in north Minneapolis one night about 20 years ago.
He wasn't bothering anyone, just waiting alone at a bus stop. He did not anticipate that his presence on earth was about to end.
I presided at the murder trial.
The night Bernard Brown was shot to death in north Minneapolis, four young boys — teenagers, members of a gang — decided they would go out and commit some robberies. One of them brought a long gun. They had access to a car. Their first encounter was with Bernard Brown. He had no significant money. The boys took what Brown had, and the gunman shot and killed him.
That did not end the boys' adventure that night. They went on to track a couple going home from a grocery store, robbed them, raped a woman sharing their apartment and committed other crimes against them.
My purpose in recalling this true story is to ponder the state of mind that permitted these crimes to occur. Apparently, the murder of Bernard Brown did not impress these boys sufficiently to cause them to go home.
I wonder how youngsters become so callous, so uncaring that they not only can kill another human being, but can continue their evening's exploits to perpetrate additional heinous harms. If I had just shot and killed someone, I would want to retreat and hide. These kids apparently were unfazed by the horror of their deed and continued to do more.
How did those young minds get to be so different? Our media are consistently reporting how responsible people seek to solve our crime problems. And indeed, there are likely many contributing forces. But whether the cause is poverty, single parent households, lack of interest in education, racial inequity, joblessness, peer pressure, etc., the common bottom line of serious crime is too often the creation of amoral minds.
All of the well-intentioned programming of social remedies — all of which are needed — are not getting us where we need to be. Serious crime is not abating.
"You disrespected me so I am going to kill you," is not abating.
Social and financial disadvantage does not adequately explain diseased thinking. Many have emerged from similar backgrounds to great achievement. What does seem to be a common thread of success, however, is stability and discipline in the home.
Other people more knowledgeable than I will certainly be able to comment about how to achieve the home influence that is likely missing. But to me, that seems to be the bottom line. And all of the well-intentioned social programs won't likely get to the solution for decades. We should not have to wait decades.
Objections to modest bail and sentences, as well as complaints that we are disproportionately imprisoning minorities, are legitimate. But they are peripheral issues addressing after-the-crime events. The criminal justice system, for the most part, works as it should. With few exceptions, we are not convicting innocent people.
But we need to do more to get into the communities and the homes where young minds and morals are shaped. There are surely current efforts to accomplish this, but we are not seeing adequate results.
Perhaps we need even more cooperation from the communities producing gang conduct.
Perhaps we need more programs teaching parenting skills.
Perhaps we need even more policing of gangs.
There are likely more and better ideas. But we apparently need more discussion and emphasis addressing the root of moral development. Bernard Brown and so many others did not deserve to die.
Thomas W. Wexler, of Edina, is a retired Hennepin County district judge.