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A Tale of Two Cultures

The aftermath of two multiple murders creates a remarkable cultural juxtaposition in the pages of today’s New York Times.

Yesterday, a federal jury sentenced 24-year-old Ronell Wilson to death for the murders of two undercover detectives, James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, who were found bleeding on the streets of Staten Island after a gun deal went awry.

Moments after the shootings, Mr. Wilson explained his reason for firing a .44-caliber bullet into the skull of each 30-something policeman and father, according to a witness: “Because I don’t give [expletive] about anybody.”

While on trial, Mr. Wilson drafted a letter describing his “deep sorrow towards the victims familys & friends” (sic) and pleading for his life. But the letter contains no clear statement of responsibility and lacks the ring of sincerity in statements like “[I]t’s hard for me to be remorseless.” Calling his life “a on going up hill battle”, Mr. Wilson then becomes self-congratulatory: “I have matured greatly I respect other’s space and belongings. I have never had a single fight in federal custody.”

As the saying goes, sincerity is everything; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Mr. Wilson couldn’t fake it, and he didn’t get to submit the letter. So instead he read a statement explaining:

I cannot be remorseless and show no sympathy to these men’s families and friends. I am not good with words. I wish I could explain myself more better, but I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused them all. I know that I have caused a great deal of pain to them all and I say it again and again. I am so sorry.

I am sorry that I caused so much pain throughout my life to others, especially my family and the families of the victims. I know that the victim’s families may not accept my apology but I pray that God will give them all the comfort and strength that they need to move on from this tragedy. I have the same prayer for my family also.

The jury didn’t buy it anyway, and sentenced Mr. Wilson to death by lethal injection.

And neither Mr. Wilson nor his family waited to drop the bad charade. Once the death sentence was read, Mr. Wilson stuck his tongue out at his victims’ families. His brother cursed the jurors, and their mother called them “the murderers now”.

Meanwhile, the victims’ family members applauded and cried, “And the Lord rejoices.”

Maybe.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a community was taking a far different approach.

Four months ago, in the Amish town of Nickel Mines, a discontented milkman shot 10 girls, killing five of them, before shooting himself to death.

Here the focus is on moving on. “People don’t fuss about it,” community member Mary Stoltzfus told the Times.

Instead of fussing, they’ve been working. The schoolhouse where the murders took place has been razed, and the new one is supposed to be finished next month.

And the work of healing goes on. Amish and non-Amish in the area have reached out to the gunman’s widow and children. Last month, they put up a Christmas tree and decorated it with gifts for the family.

It hasn’t been easy. A volunteer fireman says he’s haunted each time he hears a horse-drawn buggy, recalling the clip-clop as the girls’ funeral hearses rode by.

But a midwife who helped deliver some of the victims calls rebuilding the school “a symbol of hope”.

And therein lies the heart of the difference between two northeastern cultures. On the one side, anger. On the other, hope.

Of the two, hope is by far the harder to live out.

And maybe that’s part of why it’s also the more powerful.

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