Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.--
President-elect BARACK OBAMA- Victory Speech in Chicago's Grant Park: 4 November 2008
[A]s historic and noteworthy as 4 November 2008 will be in the Annals of Mankind, the various and sundry problems and passions of Race in America were not, in the least, completely swept away by Obama's election to the Presidency.--
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON: Commentary of 6 November 2008, entitled 'LIBERTY ENLIGHTENING THE WORLD'
I want to give the reader fair warning here: for I am about to tell a very disturbing story, although I will try my utmost to relate it as tastefully as I can. It was a story I saw recently on the late evening local TV news and it very much struck me, especially considering the evident euphoria within most of the American population as to the possibilites for a so-called 'new post-racial America' in the wake of the election of Barack Obama as the Nation's first Black President.
I am here not at all purposely trying to put the proverbial "wet blanket" over such euphoria, but one has to be most sober and reflective whilst considering such a weighty topic- Race in America- that has proven to have been rather difficult to resolve, going all the way back to when those attending the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia wrestled with how best to handle Slavery and not, at the same time, implode the new "more perfect Union" they were crafting.
And, when something along the lines of that which I am about to relate occurs, such sober reflection is altogether necessary, as well as fitting.
Back on Wednesday 15 October 2008- the very same day on which now-President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain would be holding their third, and final, Presidential Debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead on New York's Long Island- the bodies of 24-year-old Marine Sergeant Jan Pawel Pietrzak and his 26-year-old wife, the former Quiana Jenkins, were found bound, gagged and shot to death in that manner the press usually refers to as "execution style" in their own home in Riverside County, California; in addition, Mrs. Pietrzak had also been sexually assaulted. Those who committed this awful deed thereafter attempted- unsuccessfully, as things turned out- to set the home on fire in an obvious attempt to cover up their crime.
I, if only by way of disclaimer, want to make it most clear that I did not know either Sgt. Pietrzak or Quiana Jenkins-Pietrzak; nor do I at all know either of their families or any members thereof: as a result, everything I am about to relate comes solely from media reports of this horrible incident.
Jan Pawel Pietrzak was born in Poland and was- as any of you out there familiar with the Polish language would already know- named for the man that many, if not most, historians are already acknowledging will be forever known as Pope John Paul II the Great (for 'Jan Pawel' is, in case the reader had not yet discerned this, Polish for 'John Paul'). He came to our shores with his family at just about the same age I myself once was when my own family moved from Staten Island, NY to the suburban North Jersey county in which I happen to currently live, although it is certainly a far more stressful thing to move to a whole new country than it is to move between States of this Union (besides, in my own case, I had already done it once before by the time I was approaching 10 years old).
Sgt. Pietrzak thereafter grew up in Brooklyn, NY and, by all accounts, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the World Trade Center across the East River from his home Borough, told his mother that "we have to give back" to America and, thus, enlisted in the United States Marines; according to press reports, his mother said that "he felt like this is the time when men need to respond". Clearly the very definition of the very word 'patriot', even though he wasn't even born in this country, he served in Iraq as one of those "risk[ing] their lives for us"- as our new President put it at his Victory Rally the other night: thus, Sgt. Pietrzak was also a hero-- and this point should not at all ever be forgotten. At the time of his death, he was a helicopter mechanic assigned to the Miramar Air Station in San Diego.
His wife, Quiana, was also a hero in her own quite different way: she worked for the Black Infant Health Care Center of Riverside County Public Health at the time of her untimely death and her goal was to become an anesthesiologist: thus, she was one of those unsung home-front patriots most Americans, indeed, are as they go about their daily business trying, in their own small way, to make the United States a better country- for others, if not for themselves- than it was when they first came into it- whether by ship, via plane or directly from the womb. The Pietrzaks had only purchased their dream home in May and they were only just married this past August: a little over two months after their wedding, both were found dead in that home which had been turned into the scene of a nightmare.
Four men were arrested and charged with various offenses related to this crime on Wednesday 5 November 2008- the very day after the United States of America elected its first African-American President. Of course, here in the United States of America, all who happened to have been arrested in this case are ever innocent until proven guilty via Due Process of Law; this is, indeed, a hallmark of our Justice system here and one with which the authorities- both military and civilian- should not at all trifle lightly: after all, I just spent a significant portion of my 6 November 2008 Commentary slamming (a fair term for my approach in that piece, I think) the outgoing George W. Bush for, among other things, an act of jurisprudential hubris flying in the very face of a long history of constitutional precedent that makes most clear that, where the civilian courts are open for business, military tribunals cannot be ultilized for crimes committed in the jurisdictions of those courts- though I think this case provides reasonable exception to this last, although there is- of course- no exception whatsoever to the application of Due Process of Law in any event!
For, as it turns out, all those currently being held responsible for the murders are Marines themselves, all ranking below Sergeant- at least two of whom were directly under Sgt. Pietrzak's command as a Non-commissioned Officer. This is why- in at least some cases, if not all- the U.S. military does at least share jurisdiction with the civilian courts in California in prosecuting this terrible crime against the very type of young middle-class couple Barack Obama himself championed as among the chief beneficiaries of his economic policies should he become President.
The main reason I bring all this up, however, is because, while robbery has been singled out as having been the main motive, a bias offense or "hate crime" cannot be ruled out. This is because the couple was biracial, just like President-elect Obama's own parents: Sgt. Pietrzak was White; Quiana Jenkins-Pietrzak was Black. Meanwhile, all the alleged perpetrators were Black.
Now, it's true that, normally, I would hesitate to even mention the race of the alleged perpretrators of such a brutal act: for, when it comes to the the torture-murder of a married couple in their own home, the race of the perpetrators does not- and should not- matter (nor does- or should- the race of the victim[s]); then again, normally you would not even be reading even a summary of such a horrific crime on The Green Papers in the first place. But there is here a reason why I would so bring it up and, again, the reader should bear with me here.
One does not generally commit a sexual assault as part and parcel of a robbery, with or without concomitant homicide, for no reason whatsoever: this is what suggests, to me, that this well falls under the rubric of a bias/hate crime-- and if, indeed, this was a bias/hate crime, then it so terribly illustrates that what I wrote as quoted from myself at the very head of this piece is, so sadly, true: that, as racially-healing as Barack Obama's recent election as President might prove to have been to our Nation, there is yet quite a long way to go and that way is still no easy walk!
Or, to again quote the President-elect from the other night: The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep... There will be setbacks and false starts-- especially as regards this particular issue.
For racism- regardless of who, of which race, might have been the racist and who, of which race (or races), might have been the victim of such racism- has not yet suddenly met its well-deserved end. As with what I referred to, in that 6 November 2008 piece, as the basest vitriol of this most recent election campaign, the most vicious racism- of any type, by anybody- this Nation might yet produce has not at all disappeared simply because a Black man has been elected President of the United States as if someone had, at that very moment, thrown a switch to the 'OFF' position.
In his own time, at Gettysburg, President Lincoln asked (to repeat that which I quoted from him this past 6 November) that, from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion: that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain- that this Nation under God shall have a new birth of Freedom.
Well, even though the Pietrzaks did not die in battle (at least not in a "battle" in the ordinary military sense of the term) and even though- had it not been for their untimely and horrific deaths- we in the greater world would probably not even know their names right now, it is most fitting and proper that both Jan Pawel and Quiana be here considered "honored dead" in their own quieter and far more humble way and that- from them: by all accounts, hard-working people just, as the late James Brown so succinctly put it, "trying to get over before [they] go under"- we all should take Lincoln's "increased devotion" to their "cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion"- their evident deep love for one another, albeit as part of a love story that was so unnecessarily- and tragically- cut short.
If this Nation under God is, indeed, to have a second- even newer- "birth of Freedom" with the election of Barack Obama as its 44th Chief Executive, then it simply has to do something about Racism once and for all. In this regard, then, the President-elect's "unyielding Hope" ever provides that "Opportunity" of which he himself spoke in Grant Park the other night- in this case: an opportunity to, finally, get it right.
If we Americans- as a People- can actually pull this off, then Jan Pawel and Quiana Pietrzak will not have died in vain!