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Rob Ingram Special to The Skanner News
Published: 22 April 2011

Such a vague and still true statement; challenge what you think you know.  Shouldn't we always analyze and contrast information?  In school, comprehension showed itself in the ability to compare and contrast.  So we should look at "what we know" to find out if 1) we really know it, and 2) is it truth based on all information available to me?  Then we might find out we don't know what we thought we knew, but we know that we don't know, so we know…

Sorry about that.  I like wordplay!  But I digress, because I do have a point to make.  It is this: in the matter of the disappearance and alleged death of Yashawnee Vaughn, as it is with plenty of other criminal proceedings, there is a lot of "what we know."  And left untended, "what we know" in a hypothetical context can become WHAT we know- -- as a definitive. 

What I mean to say is as information swirls and circulates -- and it will for awhile -- if we aren't careful to critique what we hear and read, we might start to put credence into sketchy info, which can then get circulated and accepted as true talk from the folks who should know. 

Here's the part that might feel like a contradiction- being careful about what we hear and read is easiest if we just avoid the situation all together.  Then I save myself the discomfort of the process of ferreting out the truth.  And I further protect myself from acknowledgement of any potentially gruesome information I may have come across.  We do have the first obligation to shield ourselves from that which might cause unwanted feelings, isn't that why we avoid awkward situations like our life is in jeopardy?   I heard it said once that if you don't ask any questions, you won't have to hear any lies…But if we avoid the conversation all together then we assume a helpless posture that screams helpless and powerless, and THAT is not us! 

If we go the safe route and avoid the conversation, we will have committed the most significant offense in this state of affairs.  I know that is bold to suggest, but dig: if indeed Parrish Bennette ended Yashawnee's life, we need to find out why.  While the "system's" reaction is for prosecution's sake, we need to know what was going on with that young man who IS a member of this community.  Was he in a mental health crisis?  Under the influence?  Afraid?  We NEED to know that because there is no surety that he is the only young man who has faced or will face those challenges, and we need the next story to end differently.

If we exercise convenience and leave this tragedy for "them" to sort out we will abscond this opportunity to do better.  The versions of the story, assumptions, and hunches are abundant.  And that will likely last for some time.  The harsh reality is we may never know exactly what happened, or why.  But THAT is the charge of the hour, to find out what happened and why!  Not to find out what we think happened, but what did happen.   Was an officer at fault?  Was Parrish acting alone?  And how will we determine if Yashawnee's past life decisions played into things?  Because so many people have talked to so many people, who have talked to more people, I wonder how far away from proof we've gotten.

If you take nothing else, leave with this: we have more than enough reasons why we need to find out what happened, and why.  If and only if we can remain focused on the task at hand will we ever determine where to go from here.  The justice system will exact its response, not sure what to do about that right now.  But this is indeed as good a time as any to address some of our issues.  It strikes me how different people seem to have different challenges about this particular tragedy.  Some said they were both too young, others said it was the parents' fault, and still those said that more police doing more policing is the answer.  With my head high and my shoulders back, I proudly proclaim to you: I Do Not Know.   I'm not so ready to blame moms or dads, or curfew laws, or officers, or cafeteria lunch ladies (I'm sure they get blamed for a lot) or politicians for what happened.  Not only does that not get us anywhere, but it's far too self-serving.  I think we look for others to blame so easily because often it is our way of elevating ourselves on the humanity food chain.  I do care whose fault Ms. Vaughn's death is, but mainly for the sake of her family, friends and loved ones, and then so that we can have that raw dialogue about our issues, our kids and our community.   I don't know a whole lot, but I do know that something very bad happened that should have never happened.  And I know that it's going to be up to all of us together to figure out why.  We can't afford to talk about our children in theory and argue with whether or not we've lost a generation when we aren't talking with one another, our children included, about solutions.  We can't leave it up to the systems, it's not their community!  As soon as we want true justice, we've got to talk with each other, listen to each other, talk about what we need to and avoid the background chatter- and central to all of that, we must challenge what we think we know!


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