The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
I didn't know her, but I did

Fred A. Wilcox • 9 February 2005

I can't stop staring at her, as though just by looking I can bring her back to life. Somehow, my sorrow will turn back the clock. She will be making coffee in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen. Her fiancé will butter a plate of rye toast. They will listen to National Public Radio, talk about the war in Iraq, complain about the weather, prepare for another exciting day in the Big Apple. Well, perhaps not altogether exciting day but one worth living, one with promise because they are young and in love and living in the most happening place on earth. If they wish, they can call for pizza at 4:00 a.m., have a bottle of wine delivered to their door, most anything they might wish to have at any time they choose to have it. Can't do that in Toledo, they'll say. Can't do that in Denver or a thousand other good but limited places to live. And so they will kiss goodbye, she on her way to audition for new play, he planning to meet friends for lunch. A few hours apart, then home again, more talk, dinner, walking in the snow, lovemaking, morning coffee; a good and getting even better life.

I stare at the photograph and I think, "That could have been my daughter." The one who moved to Manhattan right out of high school, found a job waiting tables in a hip pizza joint, started classes at Barnard College, and navigated streets where prostitutes sold quick blowjobs to buy crack, where the homeless wandered in endless circles of cold and hunger and defeat, and where the corner crows called "Hey, whas up, girl?" when we passed them by. She waved and smiled and the boys laughed. Always suspicious and fedarful, I whispered, "Who the hell's that?" "Oh don't worry, daddy," my daughter shrugged. "He sells drugs, that's all." That was Rivington Street back in the day, before the "East Village" spread fancy little shops and candle-lit bars and clubs downtown, deeper and deeper into the hood.

"The heartless mugger who gunned down a stunning actress on the lower side," shouts the Daily News, "was caught on tape by a security camera just minutes before the killing, police sources said yesterday." On the late news we get to watch this "heartless mugger" and his friends, bundled in bulky coats, scarves masked around their faces, bobbing up and down like drunken marionettes. Soon, these kids will encounter Nicole duFresne, her fiancée and their friends. Nicole is a twenty-eight-year old aspiring actress from Minnesota. We do not see her in the tape. Nor do we see the mugger yank a magnum .357 from his coat and slam it into her boyfriend's face. We don't hear Nicole screaming at her attackers, or the cannon retort of the gun going off. We don't feel the bullet rip into Nicole's chest. The tape doesn't show her falling backward onto the snow-crusted sidewalk, dying in her finance's arms while the kids in the oversized coats scatter into the night.
I know exactly where it happened; I know that corner, those streets, those kids. It could have been my daughter. It might have been me. I awaken from a troubled sleep and lie in the dark, thinking, feeling, processing. I want to call Nicole's parents, but what does one say to parents whose child has been murdered? I want to drive to the city and stalk the streets, looking for Nicole's killer or killers. And when I find them? I'll put them up against some dirty old wall, threaten to blow their fucking little brains out, make them wet their pants as they cry for mercy. "Tough guys," I'll shout, " carrying a magnum around in your pocket, beating up innocent people, killing a young woman who had never done you or anyone else any harm? Cowards," I'll scream. "Wimps, punks, chicken shits." And when they laugh in my face, what then? Pull my own piece? In my bedroom closet there's one ancient 4.10 shotgun, a Japanese rifle my father brought home from the war, my old BB. gun, and a bayonet. No bullets or shells. Nothing I could use to kill or maim another human being.

Shortly after Nicole's murder, my daughter calls from Bombay, India. "I've been lucky, really lucky, haven't I, dad?" she says. "All those years. Coming home late. Lucky…" Yes, I say, you've been lucky. Your brother and sisters have been lucky. I've been lucky. Nicole wasn't lucky. She hadn't been in the city long enough to learn that you never, ever, talk back to a man holding a gun. Apparently, she wasn't aware of the rage that hovers just beneath the exciting, whacky, you can get anything you want surface of the Big Apple. Maybe she didn't feel the racial tension that bubbles and boils and, remarkably, rarely blows into full-scale riots or street fighting in New York City. She probably knew that crime statistics show that New York is one of the safest U.S. cities in which to live. The bad old days when I wandered the Lower East Side are gone. No more junkies slobbering in doorways. No more crazed addicts burrowing through walls, jimmying windows, rappelling down airshafts. The homeless who camped in Tompkins Square Park are gone. The heroin dealers are gone. The crack epidemic is over. Yuppies, or so it seems, have won the battle for the streets of another urban neighborhood.

New York City may be less dangerous than it once was, but Nicole's death shows that inside of bulky coats, inside of brief cases and purses, inside of book and shopping bags, people are carrying guns. Like residents of other big American cities, New Yorkers carry guns because they are afraid, they want to act tough, they belong to gangs or maybe they're dealing drugs. People carry guns and keep firearms in their homes because, they will tell you, the United States Constitution guarantees all Americans, rich and poor, black and white, brilliant and stupid, sane or insane, the "right to bear arms".

Nicole duFresne was white, educated, from the Midwest. She wasn't supposed to bleed to death on the streets of New York. Everyone knows that kids who are shot to death, day in, day out, live in the ghettos. Their skin is black or brown. They were hoping to attend college, where they intended to study to become doctors, writers, actors, lawyers, and teachers. These kids died while talking to friends, playing basketball, returning from the store. They had hoped to escape the war zone. They wanted to make their families proud and, later, help take care of the people who had worked so hard to feed and cloth and house them. They didn't belong to gangs, they didn't sell drugs, they didn't carry guns. Like Nicole duFrenze, they wanted to enjoy their youth and make a contribution to their family and to their country. Like Nicole, they were killed by throwaway time bombs with hair trigger tempers, kids who expect to be dead, and often are, before they reach voting age.

The police had little trouble finding Nicole's killer, a 19 year-old who sobbed in the backseat of the squad car taking him to jail. They also arrested a couple of young women who had made the terrible mistake of hanging with an armed mugger that cold January night. The killer's friends have apparently said they were shocked when he pulled the trigger. Nicole, they insist, was up in the kid's face. There was snow and ice. Confusion. Screaming. People will say that Nicole should have held her temper. Some will want to send the kids to jail for life or see them die by lethal injection. Some will argue that the shooter and his friends are victims of poverty and racism. The charges against the gunman of first and second-degree murder will undoubtedly be reduced. On the corner of Clinton and Rivington Streets, a small memorial of bouquets and candles will remain for a time before disappearing into the grit and indifference of urban America.

In time, Nicole and her killers will be forgotten, but the slaughter of the innocents will continue. Parents will bury their murdered children. Husbands and wives will mourn their murdered spouse. To people living in gun-free nations, the United States of America resembles a mad house, where any lunatic can purchase a killing machine and commence to blow holes in fellow workers, neighbors, family members and friends. Nowhere else in the world has The National Rifle Association been able to convince people that "guns don't kill people, people do." Nowhere else has the NRA been able to convince rational human beings that they have a God-given right to carry concealed weapons.

In the weeks and months to come, the New York City Council won't dwell on Nicole's murder. Congress will not pause for a moment of silence to remember this beautiful actress who had hoped to fulfill the American dream in the most exciting city in the world. If challenged, and it's unlikely the organization will be, the NRA will repeat its tired mantra about citizens' right to buy, sell, trade, carry, and if necessary use guns like the one used to kill Nicolle. I will grieve for Nicolle's family, and I will try to think of something I might do or say to diminish their suffering. I wish that I could tell her parents, and all of the hundreds of thousands of people who've lost one ones to gun violence over the years, that one day our nation will come to its senses and close down companies that profit from death and destruction. I don't believe that will happen in my lifetime, if ever. Cowed by the financial and political power of the NRA, congress refuses to protect the American people from gun violence. Indeed, even while Nicole's killer is being tried, convicted, and sent away to prison, our streets will echo with the sound of gunfire and the sirens of ambulances rushing the wounded and dying to mash units.

Nicole duFresne deserved the chance to live a long and productive life, but with one slight squeeze of a trigger all that was taken away. A bitterly cold night in January, 2005. Kids out to score some easy cash. Stick up a couple of fools. Guns. Death. Long prison terms. Trauma. Ruined lives.

It could have been one of my children, her friends, or mine. It could have been me. It was all of us; this is our country.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

14 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals Will Not Be Built on Fear
Gerard Quinn

'Law and Order' From Behind a Balaclava
John Kelly

Where Are the Guards of Honour?
Sean Magee

Losing Hearts and Minds
Mick Hall

Protest? You're Having a Laugh
Michael Benson

Brian Mór

When A Leader Deserts His Men
Anthony McIntyre

No News
James Fitzharris

I Didn't Know Her, But I Did
Fred A. Wilcox

Parents Must Fight Bigotry
David Adams

9 February 2005

Oderint dum Metuant
Anthony McIntyre

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

Can Republicans Succeed Without Upholding National Sovereignty?
Francis Mackey

The Party or the Process
Dr John Coulter

Sean Russell and the Nazis
Mick Hall

Counting the Bodies
Liam O Ruairc

Elections' Aftermath
Ghali Hassan

What did Aeschylus write in "Daughters of Danaus"?
Toni Solo



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