Friday, September 3, 2010

The Murder Wall

by Donna Pendergast


The Murder Wall: its very name is so in-your-face, but then again, it's supposed to be. It all began in 1987, when Nancy Ruhe-Munch, Executive Director of the Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) national organization, had an idea. Inspired by the use of memorial walls for Holocaust victims and for troops killed in the Vietnam War, she conceived of the idea of a traveling tribute to honor the memory of murder victims. With the help of Ann Reed, another POMC member who designed the end product, the Memorial Wall became a reality. In 1995 it was renamed "The Murder Wall" to emphasize that the victims died at the hands of another in addition to memorializing their names.

Now numbering nearly 4,000 names, the ever-growing wall carries the names of murder victims on engraved plaques. Each plaque carries 12o names, dates of birth and dates of death on 3 1/2- by 2 1/2-inch solid walnut panels. The wall travels to different places, where it is usually unveiled by members of an honor guard who pull away swatches of black cloth to reveal the names of the sons and daughters, whose lives were senselessly taken, to waiting family and friends watching for their loved ones name to be uncovered.

I sit on the Advisory Board for the local chapter of POMC. I have seen The Murder Wall up close several times at different chapter events. It always has the same effect on me: so very many names, so very sad and senseless. Announcer Herbert Morrison's famous moan upon witnessing the crash of the Hindenburg always comes to mind: "Oh, the humanity!"

The names that stare back are stark reminders of once-living persons now reduced to names, dates and memories left behind in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. But the stories behind the thousands of names don't begin to illustrate the true impact that murder has on society. Among these children might have been a future president, a pope or the person who discovers the cure for cancer. But most of all, I am struck by "why:" Why, as a culture, do we have so little respect for human life?

What the wall symbolizes goes much deeper than the stories of the individual victims whose names are immortalized on those shiny brass plates. It is a symbol of a culture where life is cheap and thoughtless, violent depravity has become a way of life. It's a culture of murder so vicious and pervasive that parents live in fear of their children not coming home from school each day; where a child can be murdered in the blink of an eye by gang-member thugs just because they live on the wrong street or because someone wanted their apparel or other personal possessions. It's a culture where many people hide in their houses at night out of fear of the very real bogey man who could be waiting in the dark.

What has happened to our culture in the last 60 years or so that murder has become ordinary instead of extraordinary? Little more than half of a century ago, any murder was front-page news; now only the most sensational cases merit a mention in the press. The less sensational cases are now considered commonplace and may only end up as a name etched on a plaque on a traveling wall, largely unnoticed by all but victims' families and friends.

What has happened to society as a whole within less than the average life span? We continue to build ever higher walls around ourselves, our families and our possessions. But rather than reduce the threat, the danger we face becomes ever more real. Crime drives up walls, walls disconnect us from people around us, which exposes us to more crime and drives up bigger walls.

Perhaps the answer lies in a quote by Sir Isaac Newton: "We build too many walls and not enough bridges." I know that The Murder Wall is one wall too many. Unfortunately, its ever-growing size shows that one wall is not nearly enough.


Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General

1 comment:

Story Teller said...

Brillant post. Very well-written and thought-provoking.