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Sheila E. Battle: How much is a life worth in RVA today?

James Warren November 29, 2017
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The following excerpt from “How much is a life worth in RVA today?” by Sheila E. Battle is posted with permission from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (richmond.com). 

On June 15, 1995, my sister Sharon Yvonne Jackson was murdered in the 1000 block of East Marshall Street. She was robbed at gunpoint in a crack house for roughly $50. That’s 5,000 pennies.

Exactly 21 years and three days later, Sharon’s son, my nephew, Ronald C. McWilliams was murdered on Richmond’s Southside in the Oak Grove neighborhood. He was also robbed at his home and he died for roughly $100. That’s 10,000 pennies.

When I reflect on the generational hole that exists within the heart of our family, and the recent murders in the news, I wonder about the value of a human life in Richmond.

In March 2017, a local RVA newspaper released the 2016 homicide list. The article included a thumb-size picture of each victim’s face, along with a very basic description, barely longer than two sentences: name, age, date of death. Sixty-one lives in total. All within a capital city that roughly spans 60 square miles, with a population of around 225,000 people.

My guess is that many people ignored the article. They scrolled by or turned away from it quickly to avoid creating space in their thoughts for faces that might come back and haunt them later. I know how it feels to desire that distance. Yet I couldn’t escape the reality of this headline as easily as others.

Even during the 20 years between our tragic losses, my heart would pound when I saw this list year after year. I wondered about their stories and their families. How could I let them know that the ache never goes away? At best, it just becomes manageable. To help soothe the scar on my own soul, I would allow myself to pause, feel the pain of the families, and remember.

I would remember the first time our family was in the news — remember throat-constricting comments from critics who could only see my sister as “just” another junkie:

Isn’t the path of a drug addict — who lives in deep despair — destined for death by the addiction or the company they keep?

Aren’t these deaths to be expected, considering culture, climate, and choices made?

Society responds with a resounding “Yes.”

Sharon fell hard inside the crack epidemic of the 1990s. Our hearts were marred by the fact that no amount of our love and support could lift her up and out of hopelessness.

As a result, my sister, my first best friend, and my most fierce protector died in a crack house, alone. Not from an overdose but through the deliberate act of someone whose skin was just as brown as hers. She was a victim of black-on-black crime, and back then, there were no marches, rallies, or protests. She died a statistic and landed on multiple lists.

Read the rest at the Richmond Times-Dispatch

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