Posted in Looking Back, Politics, Society

10 Years of Project 2,996

Project 2,996 was created back in 2006. So, even though it’s not yet 10 years old, this will be the 10th 9/11 where I have encouraged others to remember these people not by rehashing their very public deaths, but by learning about their lives.

I’ll freely admit when the idea came to me that I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. In fact, until right before 9/11 I actually had the information contained on a single page of my existing blog. Then on 9/11 so many people visited my website–to see the list and follow the links–that I used up all my allotted traffic before I even woke up. I had trouble getting my site back up because every time my webhost tried to bring it back up a flood of incoming traffic immediately took it back down. Thankfully, some of the other participants put up mirrors of the list. That first year, even though my site was down for more than 12 hours, my webhost logged more than 2 million incoming requests.

However, what shocked me was how many people were willing to sign up to learn about–and write about–someone they never met.

This year–as I always do–I invite you to learn about those killed on 9/11.

Posted in Looking Back, Politics

Speak Your Mind

A few days ago someone sent me a link with a series of birthday trivia—what bread cost when I was born, the price of a new car—and it included historical events that happened on June 4. Several of the events I was unaware of or didn’t remember. But one, I will never forget, as I watched it unfold on TV.

Twenty years ago, on my seventeenth birthday, as I waited for my father to pick me up to go see the third Indiana Jones movie, around the world from me a young man—of immeasurable bravery—stood his ground.

It was twenty years ago this week that the People’s Republic of China brought a violent end to the peaceful student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.

For most of the people reading this post, the fight for your ability to think what you want and say what you want, was fought and won long before you were born. In my case (U.S.) the closest connection I have to many of them are the faces on my currency. As a young man it was difficult to understand the need to fight for such basic freedoms, and a world without those freedoms seemed abstract.

But watching as thousands of young Chinese put their lives second to the idea that they and their countrymen should be able to express their ideas, and seeing the brutal suppression of their protests, made it clear to those of us who were listening that the rights we take for granted are far from universal.

I’m a fanatic of free speech—the ACLU would consider me liberal on the subject. I can name many of the legal cases, decided over hundreds of years, that have codified my right to say what I want. But even I take them for granted—it’s inevitable when you’ve never had to fight for something.

But I’m not sure those of us who watched Tiananmen Square—who saw the Berlin Wall become irrelevant in a few short days—are able to overlook the rights the same way we did before June 4, 1989.

The West will never know how many people, students and soldiers, died at Tiananmen Square, but the number certainly reached into the hundreds—some say into the thousands. And we don’t know precisely what happened to the brave man who stared down a line of tanks (though most intelligence agencies report that he was tortured and killed). But we do know that in the 20 years since Tiananmen Square freedom has not come to the men and women who stood their ground.

It’s unfair to say the victims of Tiananmen Square died in vain, as their sacrifice gave a taste of freedom to more than 100,000 young Chinese—and freedom is a taste not easily forgotten.

But freedoms are like muscles—occasionally, they must be exercised or they will wither.

So this week, 20 years after 100,000 people you have never met, stood their ground and risked their lives for just a few moments of freedom, I challenge each of you to remember their fight by exercising your freedom. This week, stand up and say what others can’t.

This post was originally posted on Write Anything
where six writers talk about the trials and
tribulations of their writing lives. And each
Tuesday the soapbox belongs to me.

Posted in Looking Back

Adam Walsh Case Closed

Yesterday, police in Hollywood, Florida announced that they were officially closing the Adam Walsh Murder Case and declaring it solved. Adam Walsh disappeared on July 27, 1981—it took 10,004 days to close the case. Though no new evidence had been found or presented in the recent years, it was an external review of the case that concluded that Ottis Toole—who has been imprisoned for other murders since 1984, and dies on Death row a decade ago—was the killer.

That Ottis Toole was the killer is far from certain. Were he still alive, there would be sufficient evidence to charge him, though a conviction would be far from certain. The other primary suspect in the case was Jeffrey Dahmer—who lived in South Florida at the time. The killing does have certain things in common with other Dahmer murders, though one striking dissimilarity is that Adam was significantly younger than any of Dahmer’s other victims.

I’m not sure we’ll ever know, for certain who killed Adam Walsh. But both primary suspects died in prison, one by cirrhosis, one killed by another inmate. Maybe for Walsh’s parents it just seemed pointless to keep hounding the investigators. You can’t ever get justice for something like this anyway—the most you can hope for is closure.

The Adam Walsh murder changed my life. Not for any personal connection, but because the murder changed South Florida.

I lived in Hialeah, about 20 miles from the Mall where Adam disappeared. In fact, the week earlier, I had been at the very same store. I was 9 years old at the time. It was summer vacation, and that was the first summer I was allowed to stay home by myself. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere except outside to play or the houses of certain friends who lived on the same block.

The few days after Adam’s disappearance, parents naturally pulled their kids closer. Now I was allowed to go to my friends houses—inside their houses—but we couldn’t play outside unless someone’s parent was watching. And after Adam’s head was found a couple of weeks later, summer basically ended. I was to stay in the house all day, all doors locked, with my mother calling in about every hour.

When I started back to school, since I was starting 6th grade, my mother had grudgingly allowed this to be the first year that I was allowed to walk home from school, and that I didn’t have to go straight to the sitter’s house. Looking back, I can’t imagine the fretting she must have done those first few days of the school year. And now I’m sure I know why my mother made me time exactly how long it took me to walk home, and why the phone was already ringing as I unlocked the front door.

In South Florida on July 27, 1981, I daresay that 99% of parents wouldn’t have thought twice about doing exactly what Revé Walsh did—leaving her son at a video game display and walking a couple of aisles away. She was close enough to hear him shout out, after all. But on July 28, 1981 any parent doing so would have been scolded—and was, because I can remember newly hired store security guards lecturing parents on the dangers of leaving kids unattended.

That one disappearance both pulled us together as a community, but also pushed us away from the people in our community that we didn’t know well.

And for the kids my age, the kids who might have played with Adam had we lived closer, the kids who had shopped at the same Sears store, the world instantly became a dangerous place.

Police started showing up at our schools, fingerprinting us, and taking photos for IDs we were never supposed to carry. And though it was never said directly to us, it was often explained in a slightly-too-loud voice to our teachers, that it could help identify our bodies if we ever turned up missing or dead.

When parents and teachers don’t explain things to kids, they develop their own theories about things. We were convinced that kids were targets and that parents didn’t want us to know exactly how much danger we were in.

That Halloween was the first that I carried two bags for candy—one for people we know (which you can keep after I go through it) and one for everyone else (straight in the trash). And the safety hysteria didn’t let up for a few years.

Kids on milk cartons and databases of missing persons were a direct result of Adam Walsh.

Life in South Florida never really went back to the way it was before Adam’s death. The country changed as well, but on a national level I don’t know how much directly followed from Adam’s death and how much from a generally more dangerous world.