A bullet is a bullet, it has no heart, shows no emotion. It follows orders, like a good soldier, and when it enters the flesh, spitting blood, killing the body, it has merely done its job. No remorse. No reward.
In that way, a bullet is much purer than the people who fire it. Murderers, unlike their guns, are capable of covering up, of denying guilt, of lying to police, lying to friends. They are capable even of the ultimate fake-out: crying at the victim’s funeral. Toni Cato Riggs — who, along with her brother, is accused of murdering her husband, Anthony — cried in church during his eulogy last weekend. She cried when Aretha Franklin sang. She cried when Jesse Jackson preached. She cried like a grieving widow, although an insurance claim had already been filed on the body. Perhaps she was even counting the money in her head during the funeral service.
This is the worst story we have heard in a long time. When Anthony Riggs was first gunned down on our streets — just 10 days after returning from the Persian Gulf War — his death led the network news. It was a perfectly horrible tale: Soldier fights for country, returns to America and is shot during a robbery. It fit a theme. It fit the “outrage at street crime” program. So Jackson showed up, made his usual speech, and TV anchors put on their usual grim faces, and for a few minutes everyone got righteous and demanded we take our streets back.
But when police arrested Michael Cato and Toni Cato Riggs on Tuesday, when they accused the pair of plotting the whole murder for Anthony Riggs’s insurance money, when stories came out about an unhappy marriage — well, suddenly the death didn’t fit a program. Suddenly it was domestic violence. Suddenly the outrage seemed to dissipate.
Which I don’t understand at all. Because, if you ask me, this new story is worse than the old one.
Domestic violence the worst kind
All during the war, we were proud to point out the differences between
“there” (the Middle East) and “here” (America). The biggest difference, we said, was our value on human life. We would never gas our own people, as Saddam Hussein had done. We would never crash a truck full of explosives into a foreign embassy, as had been done to us in Lebanon. We were different. We killed only as a last resort.
Or maybe for insurance money. What Toni Riggs is accused of doing, sadly, is not original in this country. It happens so often they make movies about it. Jeremy Irons just got an Academy Award for portraying a man accused of trying to murder his rich wife in Rhode Island, a true story. In New Hampshire, a schoolteacher is accused of getting her student/ lover to kill her husband. We look at places like Iraq and Lebanon and we scoff at how primitive they are. But how much more advanced are we? They kill each other for centuries-old religious squabbles. We kill each other for a cashier’s check. Domestic violence? Is that supposed to be a softer term for murder? If you were listing ways to die, you might come up with: 1) Death by an enemy. 2) Death by a stranger. 3) Death by a loved one. Wouldn’t this last one be the most terrifying? The thought of someone who once kissed you, once stood on an altar with you, once exchanged Christmas presents with you — the thought of someone like that, murdering you for money?
If that’s not living in hell, I don’t know what is.
Friend or foe?
So again we must ask: Where is the horror? Where is the outrage that here, in America, the most modern country on Earth, we still kill our own? And maybe that is the problem. Maybe as much as drugs, as much as poverty, as much as even street crime, we need to address the values of this country. We are a nation that places its emphasis on money, on having things, on looking good. The dreams we teach our young are not about becoming a good person. They are about “making it.”
Maybe it was those dreams that filled the heads of Toni Riggs and Michael Cato, dreams of a new car, a new house, party time. Maybe it was those dreams that swallowed the idea of Anthony Riggs as a human soul and turned him into a lottery ticket.
If so, then we are truly in a sick place. And we must reevaluate the way we think. The networks and Jesse Jackson can scream all they want about random street violence — and it is a terrible problem — but even it pales when compared to the violence we can do to someone in our own family, and the phony tears we can cry at a funeral. A society in which love means nothing, in which friends and enemies are just as dangerous, this is not a society at all.
When Anthony Riggs’ mother was interviewed after her son’s death, she said, “I know his soul is with the Lord, but it’s like his bones are in a strange land.”
What’s strange is that he called it home.