At the Intersection of Fruitvale & Clay

The following is an excerpt of a piece I wrote that was published earlier this month in my local newspaper, the Jacksonville Journal-Courier:

I left some flowers at the corner of Morton and Clay … just a few I’d picked from my garden and tied with a ribbon, laid on the corner next to a couple other small bunches.

I didn’t know her.  I never met her.  Why would I leave flowers to mark the place where Caryn Thomas died?

Maybe because her first name was spelled the same as mine.  There aren’t a lot of us, you know, and so we tend to take notice when we see another Caryn.

Maybe because the same day that the story about her tragic death after being hit by a truck while crossing the street appeared, another story on the front page of the Journal-Courier talked about renaming a section of south Main in honor of the two young people who died there in an accident last month.

Will anyone want to rename the intersection of Morton and Clay after Caryn Thomas?

I don’t know a lot about her.  She was described as vision- and hearing-impaired, 60 years old.  She was by herself crossing the street when the accident occurred.  By some accounts, she died instantly.  As of this writing I haven’t seen an obituary or anything else about her in the local media.

I thought of the massive moving tributes to the two young people that popped up near the place where they died.  The mass of candlelit faces of grieving community members attending a public memorial for them.  Will there be a public memorial for this other Caryn?

Maybe I left those flowers because I was already sad, having just come from seeing Fruitvale Station, the powerful new movie depicting the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old unarmed African American man shot point blank in the back by a transit police officer at the Bay Area Rapid Transit stop in 2009.  That event catalyzed protests and marches demanding justice for a young black man killed by a white law enforcement officer.  BART eventually paid nearly $3 million in wrongful death suits to Grant’s mother and daughter, while the officer who shot him was charged with first degree murder, but only convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a verdict decried by civil rights organizations and others around the country.  The movie has now been released on the heels of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African American man shot and killed in a place that should have been safe.

So maybe I left those flowers because I was thinking about how we do and don’t pay attention to those who live and die on the margins of our society rather than the center.  Some people’s deaths get a lot of attention.  Some don’t get enough.  Some are symbolic of larger social problems that continue to fester, while others are just terrible accidents.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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