Thursday, July 21, 2011

Leiby Kletzky's Murder, Gossip, Information, Evil, and Balance

I've opined about Leiby Kletzky's Murder before:
Repeating what I suggested last week: prayer couldn't hurt. The Kletzky family, their friends, and neighbors, are going through a rough time.

Gossip, Information, and Selling Papers

I think I agree, pretty much, with what this op-ed had to say:
"Haredi Sensitivity"
Ari L. Goldman, The Jewish Week (July 19, 2011)

"There was a sign outside the apartment in Borough Park where Leiby Kletzky's family was sitting shiva for him last week that said: 'DO NOT share rumors, stories and information you have heard – at all!!'

"Many newspapers quoted the words of the sign and then immediately violated its proscription by going on in graphic detail about the abduction and grisly murder of the 8-year-old Haredi boy. But one paper that did not detail the 'rumors, stories and information' was Hamodia, a Brooklyn paper that calls itself 'the Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry.'..."

Do Not Share - - - Information?!

When I read that second paragraph, I thought the author might be of the 'if we ignore it, maybe the problem will go away' school. What bothered me was that quote: "...'DO NOT share rumors, stories and information you have heard – at all!!'..." [emphasis mine]

Happily, I kept reading - and I'll get back to that.

Sometimes "Gossip" isn't "Gossip"

"Gossip" can mean quite a few things, including:
  1. Light informal conversation for social occasions
  2. A report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people
  3. A person given to gossiping and divulging personal information about others
    (Princeton's WordNet)
'Gossip #1' is the sort of chitchat that seems to oil the machinery of human socializing.

I doubt that shooting the breeze, making conversation, engaging in small talk - whatever it's called where you are - will solve any great issues. But I'm not convinced that we're supposed to spend every waking moment of our lives pondering points of penultimate purport. After all, God set the tone by taking a day off - and that's another topic.

'Gossip #2' is what I have in mind, when I use "gossip" in this post:
"A report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people"
(Princeton's WordNet)
I think that sort of gossip isn't a good. Which is hardly a new idea: Sirach 19:5-16.

Respect, Justice, and Gossip

Gossip, the 'dishing the dirt' variety, is on the Catholic Church's no-no list:
"Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:
  • "of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
  • "of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
  • "of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2477)
I think it's safe to think that Catechism, 2477, doesn't forbid publishing information about kidnappings, murder, or baseball scores. Particularly considering words like:
  • "unjust"
  • "assumes"
  • "without sufficient foundation"
  • "remarks contrary to the truth"
So far, that's the 'is it true?' part of deciding whether to share something.

Then, there's the 'is it necessary?' question. That's where "without objectively valid reason" comes in.

Hypothetical Fred, Dandelion Wine, and Zero Tolerance

An example might be someone noticing that the loudest critic of alcohol on the block - let's call him Fred - is drinking a glass of dandelion wine. Fred taking a nip of homemade wine is juicy gossip.

But it may, or may not, be something that has to be shared with others. That sip of wine could, after a few retellings, become a drunken rampage, real alcohol abuse, or some other reputation-damaging imaginary phenomenon. Fred may even think that "alcohol" is limited to whiskey, bottled beer, and Demon Rum. Folks can have odd ideas - and that's yet another topic.

On the other hand, if Fred's already knocked back a few pints of his fermented weeds, and is about to operate heavy machinery - or even drive to the grocery - blowing the whistle on the ersatz teetotaler might save a life. "Friends don't let friends," and all that.

You want black-and-white rules, daft zero tolerance, and Draconian decisions? The Catholic Church isn't the place to look. I've opined on how "purposely vague" the Church seems to some folks before,

Murder, Gossip, Emotions, and Reason

Before getting back to Hamodia, sharing information, and getting a grip: I'd better point out that, in my considered opinion, murder isn't nice. Happily for me, that's one opinion I didn't have to change when I converted to Catholicism:
  • Murder isn't nice, and we we shouldn't do it
I also think there's nothing wrong with emotions: but that high passion and cool reason don't play well together. I've opined about that, too:
Much more to the point, the Catholic Church discusses reason and emotions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 35, 1762-1770: for starters)

"DO NOT share ... information...," Getting the Word Out

The author of that op-ed seems to approve of the way Hamodia honored the spirit, if not the letter, of that sign's request, to "not share...information:"
"...From the time Leiby was reported missing, Hamodia used its pages to help get the word out. It covered the extensive search for Leiby and told of the 3,000 volunteers who scoured the neighborhood 'block by block' looking for clues. It also praised 'the Catholic, Asian and Pakistani communities' for handing out flyers with information and for alerting people to 'keep an eye out for the missing boy.'..."

"...The Daily News and the New York Post outdid each other with sensational headlines, like 'Gone in a Flash,' 'Monster,' 'Every Parent's Nightmare,' 'Twisted,' 'Confessions of a Lunatic' and 'the Butcher of Brooklyn.'..."
("Ari L. Goldman, The Jewish Week)
I don't think yelling "Monster" at Levi Aron - in or out of the headlines - will bring Leiby Kletzky back to life. Doing so may feel good: but so does chugging down a six-pack or two; until the next morning.

I don't think folks in New York City need to be reminded that murdering a child isn't nice, or that there's something wrong with a man who does so.

That "Confessions of a Lunatic" headline may be the sort of defense that Levi Aron's lawyer will use in his trial. The 'insanity defense' has some basis in reality - and that's yet again another topic.

Remember: I said that I think murder isn't nice, and that we shouldn't do it. Not dehumanizing Levi Aron is not the same as saying that what he did was okay.

I'm skipping the usual "allegedly" stuff, by the way. "Innocent until proven guilty" is, I think, a good idea: but in this case the man confessed, and had parts of Leiby in his freezer. If he didn't kill the child - there's something even more "twisted" going on, than what's likely to show up in tabloids. Yet more topics.


An op-ed in used the word "evil" to describe what happened to Leiby Kletzky.

I'm inclined to agree - and still a bit surprised to see that sort of value judgment in a newspaper: online or otherwise. In my "Good Old Days," things weren't "evil." The fashionable terms were more along the lines of "oppressive," "authoritarian," and - a perennial favorite - "racist." Sort of like "commie," a decade or so earlier. Still more topics.

I think America's dominant culture is edging toward accepting that "evil," on a personal level, really does exist. And that evil is bad - not just an alternative to cultural standards. We make progress. Still more topics again.

"Go Play on the Freeway - And Watch Out for Traffic?"

I think letting children learn to make decisions is a good idea. I also think that hovering, hyper-protective, parents do their children no favors.

But I think that "go play on the freeway, kid" isn't good parenting. Even if the parent adds "and watch out for traffic."

Quite a few editorials insist that parents shouldn't start restricting their children's activities as a result of just one little kidnapping and murder. I think they've got a point. "Hovering, hyper-protective, parents" and all that.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that letting kids run across a mine field would be a good idea - even if they had a map and metal detectors. There's "free," and there's "unprotected."

Yes, some street-wise kids managed to elude predators. But others - apparently - didn't. Remember: law enforcement is trying to correlate Aron Levi's movements with known missing-children cases. My guess is that many predators aren't as sloppy as Mr. Levi was, when it comes to disposing of evidence.

I think it'd be really nice, if children could be let out the door in the morning and left to their own devices: and be quite safe. That'd be nice. It's not, sadly, the reality that we live with. There's a balance between keeping your kids alive, and letting them learn how to handle themselves. Just what that balance is - isn't going to be easy to find.

'Run Free, and Hope No One Gets You'

I was in my teens when Born Free hit the screen. I still like the movie's song, although I don't quite agree with its underlying assumptions.

After reading a few of the 'let your children be free' op-eds, alternative lyrics came to mind:

Run free, and hope no one gets you.
Keep looking around you
And plan a line of retreat.

News and Getting a Grip

I think that publishing an account with phrases like "desperate screams" and "Butcher of Brooklyn" - sells newspapers. I also think that sort of breathless coverage whips up emotions that are already thoroughly engaged. Or should be.

On the other hand, I think that publishing at least some details of what happened to Leiby Kletzky - and what appears to be objectively odd behavior by his murderer - might help folks understand what happened. And that might, arguably, keep another child from being killed.

Ignorance may be bliss - but I'd rather know about threats before they hit. Which is why I think severe weather warnings are worth the risk of 'panicking the Masses.'

And that threatens to get me off yet again another topic.

Here's a sampling of what's been published about Leiby Kletzky's Murder:
"Authorities: Slain boy was drugged, smothered"
Nina Golgowski, CNN (July 20, 2011)

"The 8-year-old boy who was abducted and killed last week in Brooklyn died after being drugged and then smothered, the office of New York's Chief Medical Examiner announced Wednesday.

"The autopsy results for Leiby Kletzky listed a cocktail of four prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the boy's system: cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant; quetipine, an antipsychotic drug; hyrocodone, a pain medication and acetaminophen, the drug found in Tylenol, according to a statement from the medical examiner's office...."

"N.Y. Man Charged With Murder of Boy Reportedly Has History of Strange Behavior" (July 17, 2011)

"The New York man charged with murder in the death of an 8-year-old Hasidic boy whose dismembered body was found Wednesday in a freezer and a trash bin in Brooklyn reportedly has a history of suspicious behavior, the New York Post reports.

"A woman who lives three doors down from Levi Aron, 35, the suspect in the murder of Leiby Kletzky, told the Post that Aron had unsuccessfully tried to kidnap her son within the past two years...."

" 'Mum's desperate screams stopped Butcher of Brooklyn kidnapping ANOTHER boy' "
Mark Duell, Mail Online (July 17, 2011)

"It seems the 'Butcher of Brooklyn' almost succeeded in kidnapping another boy just three doors away from his home.

"Levi Aron, 35, of Brooklyn, New York, has admitted suffocating eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky with a bath towel in his apartment...."

"Leiby Kletzky's death shouldn't make us fearful parents: Let yours roam free"
Miven Trageser, (July 17, 2011)

"Leiby Kletzky died at the hands of a maniac last week. Nothing any of us can say or do can ever erase that horror. But his parents did not make a foolish choice in letting the 8-year-old boy walk alone for those few blocks. They made a reasonable, age-appropriate decision to give him a small amount of autonomy. The lightning of evil struck, which it sometimes will. Evil exists.

"Yesterday, I left my 9-year-old alone in Yogurtland while I went to the rest room. She was entirely comfortable with this arrangement and would have looked at me funny if I had said she had to come with me. She has been raised to trust that her world is mostly safe, that adults are usually trustworthy. She's been taught how to be competent in it...."

More-or-less-related posts:
News and views:


Brigid said...

Wrong letter: "blowing the whistle on the ersatz teetotaler might safe a life."

Confusing (and long) sentence: "Just what the balance between keeping your kids alive, and letting them learn how to handle themselves, isn't going to be easy to fine."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. Haven't read all the block quotes here, but wasn't Leiby the kid who went missing walking home from a sort of 'inside city limits' day camp that was about five blocks from his house? I wouldn't see much wrong with letting a kid walk that far unsupervised, but then my home town is a lot different from Brooklyn.

Brian Gill said...


I think I've fixed those issues - thanks!

About Leivy Kletzky's murder - yes, it's the thing you remember. I think it's more than five blocks - I've linked to a pretty good resource in another post.

I agree that the distance for the unsupervised walk - in that neighborhood - wasn't particularly excessive. The problem was that young Leiby missed a turn, which took him to a part of the city where three street grids come together. 20-20 hindsight - well, is 20-20 hindsight.

It's a sad situation.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.