Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Murder of Larry King Finally Goes to Trial

Murder Victim Larry King
 We tend to pay attention to news stories that resonate with us in some personal way. You've heard me say that before. We follow them because we want to understand how something happened to someone else and whether it could happen to us, or to convince ourselves that it couldn't happen to us. Someone just like us winning the lottery gives us hope. Someone just like us being the victim of a crime scares us. We are them, and they are us.

Today in California, a trial will begin in a case that resonates with me on many levels.

Here's what everyone agrees on:  Larry King was 15 years old and living in a shelter in Oxnard, California. He was openly gay, and sometimes wore nail polish and what most would call "girls' clothes." In February, 2008, he was sitting in his classroom when an 8th grade classmate, aged 14, walked in, sat down behind him, took out a handgun and shot him twice, killing him, before getting up and walking out of the room. The only question in this trial was whether this was a premeditated anti-gay hate crime or a crime of passion, carried out by a kid who didn't know what to do about his "humiliation" that Larry King had said repeatedly he was attracted to him.

I think this defense, used in hopes of getting the shooter convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, is horrifying. What if the victim in this case was female, and had expressed attraction for a boy. Would we actually even entertain this as a mitigating factor which "caused" the boy to kill her? Would we allow the news coverage to refer to this as the shooter being "provoked?" The fact that a lawyer is even willing to try this defense strategy speaks volumes about the amount of prejudice that exists against people who are anything other than 100% certified heterosexual in our society.

I feel so strongly because I worked in schools for almost 20 years. I know something that the defense and the shooter apparently missed, which is that 15 year-old gay kids with flamboyant clothes and crushes on people of the same sex are, first and foremost, 15 year-old kids. They, like all kids that age, are doing the best they can figuring out what it means to be them in this world. Being 15 is hard enough without throwing being gay, and everyone's reactions to it, in there. For Larry King, throwing that in there got him kicked out of his house -- that's why he was living in a shelter.

I am the mother of a kid going into 8th grade next fall, so a piece of my reaction is also about my hopes and fears for my own children. I have a great deal of confidence that my child would not murder a classmate for any reason, and certainly not for their sexual orientation. I like to imagine that nothing about her would push another child's buttons so hard they felt justified in killing her. But that part's not as clear. I know my child and I know she has generally competent parents. I don't know other families nearly as well.

Apparently there are families out there, like the shooter in this case, who are exposing their children to drugs and violence day after day. There are kids, like this shooter, who are enamoured of white-supremacist teachings, have access to handguns, and find certain groups, or at least their behavior, so awful that they don't believe their members deserve to live. This doesn't make me feel better about the safety of my nice Jewish girl.

Larry King and his killer did not exist in a vacuum. Someone -- an adult or a child -- knew there was trouble. They probably thought it wasn't a big deal. Maybe they thought Larry brought it on himself.

It's been three years since Larry King was murdered. One thing I know for sure is that today, more than one parent is going to hear their kid or one of their kids' friends talk trash about the "f****t" they know, and how they want to "kick his a**." How many of those parents are going to step in and say we don't talk about other human beings that way, and how many are going to decide that kids are kids, and besides that kid they're talking about is a little fruity and probably deserves it? How many more Larry Kings are going to die, by murder or suicide, before we decide that maybe the problem isn't them, their clothes, their nail polish, or who they have a crush on? We have met the problem, and it is us.


Colleen said...

It's not enough to just say we don't behave that way to people to our kids....we have to encourage our kids to say that to their peers, and to encourage the schools and teachers to say it, and to use the resources and programs available to say it to the community and teach it to the kids young enough that it's second nature, by the time they are teens!

But it does start with parents! When the parents aren't onboard, nothing really works, I suspect.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, many people are already seeing McInery as the villain, instead of a 14 year old kid who may actually be telling what he BELIEVES to be the truth-that he felt humiliated by sexual bullying.
I wonder what people would say if McInery took his own life? Would that make Larry King the villain? Because students kill themselves all the time, and often bullying plays a role. Humiliate is defined as "to lower the pride, dignity, or self-esteem".
Remember, a human is still very much an animal. In our culture, its important to assert one's self early in life, especially when so many look to our soldiers as heroes. Some boys have a father, but not McInery.
Thank God I had a martial arts instructor who taught me how to walk away. At 14, being accosted by ANYONE sexually would have provoked the rage and shame I had always known from being seriously physically abused at home.
I don't excuse this murder, but I do realize the human brain is not yet fully formed at 14.

Naomi Zikmund-Fisher said...

I don't disagree. Yours is a very compelling argument why this kid should not be tried as an adult. I would argue, however, that the mitigating factor is that he was 14, not that he was "provoked." To me, provoked is "go ahead and shoot me" or physically threatening him, and that isn't this case. If the jury finds him guilty of manslaughter because he was so young, I can certainly live with that.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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