The three of them had been stealing cars for some time. For these guys, Unlawful Taking of Motor Vehicles was their main form of transport. All of them had troubled histories, with intergenerational social problems. Two of them were in the care of our child protection services. The oldest, Glen McAllister, was 16, and his co offenders were his thirteen year old brother Craig and a thirteen year old friend, Brooklyn Taylor.
In short, they fled Police, drove at very high speed in the inner city, went through the road spikes laid for them and crashed into a pole, where the car caught fire. They were identified through dental records. This very happened recently in my town. Social media locally are still abuzz with it. My work takes me to the area where they were well known, and people were talking about them wherever I went. I also dipped into the comments sections from the media reporting, probably to my detriment. (Don’t read the comments! I tell people. Never read the comments!)
There seemed to be two views. One was that these were difficult kids and the situation was a tragedy. The sense of loss was acute. These were our boys, even though we hadn’t a clue what to do about them, and we went home that night and lectured our own teens about cars and drugs and alcohol and crime. If we were looking for blame, it lay with the system that had let them down. They were kids, after all, with their whole futures ahead of them. Their frontal lobes had not fully developed. My wise friend, who has had her share of similar tragedy and is related to one of the boys, was clear that these kids died because of decisions made decades ago, by grandparents and parents. For her, the message was to wake up and engage with your children, as she had done, fighting against the odds to do so.
The other view was that these kids were out of control and were old enough to know right from wrong. They were responsible for their own actions. They had been badly taught, for sure, and their parents and the system around them did a lax job, but at the end of the day the boys themselves had decided to run from the Police and the outcome was more than inevitable. It was deserved. We should think of the victims, and the kids themselves were not victims. Their victims were the people whose cars they had stolen. It was just as well no one else was killed. These kids were not our kids. Our kids don’t behave like that. These three boys were a mini crime wave, and our fear is that their criminality must at some point spill over into our lives. Our neighbourhoods are not safe from them, and there are others like them.
Two hundred years ago, thirteen-year old boys were hanged for stealing. People would have gone to their executions, and cheered as the trapdoor slammed shut. I had imagined, up until last week, that nowadays we would consider hanging thirteen-year old boys to be disproportionate. Clearly I was wrong. One of the themes of the media comments was that these boys deserved to die. Possibly if you asked ‘Do you think thirteen year olds who steal cars and run from the Police deserve to die?’ those who have made such trenchant comments on social media would back the truck up a little. Well, maybe not die, exactly, but they damn well need to take responsibility for their actions and they are no great loss to society. I would not be the one to hang them for their crimes, but what happened to them (dying in a burning car that was too on fire for rescuers to come to their aid) was a form of natural justice, surely. If they were my sons, of course I would not think they should die, but they are not my sons. They are young criminals. My sons would not behave like this.
I fail to see the nuance. I am being obtuse. You think thirteen year old boys who steal cars and run from Police should die; you think this how they take responsibility for their actions? Is this a sort of rough karma?
You can’t think like this unless you see the boys as Other. To think like this you have to say they are Not Like Us Regular Folk. They are Not Us.
It is very natural to ‘other’ others. We gravitate to people like us, whatever that means. We are clannish creatures. I remember hitch hiking as a young person in an isolated part of Northland, and being picked up by a local farmer. You don’t want to go to that valley, he said. You can’t trust the people from that valley. They’re not like us. I struggled not to laugh. He was talking about people who lived an hour away by car. And yet our clannishness flies in the face of the evidence. Heavens, the concept of race, for example, has largely been debunked, and about time. We all on this earth have far more in common than we think, and part of what we share is the grief and anger and fear when it all goes wrong for some of us. Were these boys human beings living on the planet? Yes? So of course these were our boys. We are all together.
Now, the stats. I am sorry to say to those about to launch into a moral panic, that the big longitudinal research shows that:
When the first studies of juvenile delinquency (as it was called then) were made, in the early nineteen sixties, researchers took an interest in what the young people themselves said about stealing cars and driving fast. They described a sensation of care-lessness. They did not care, and they had no cares. The moment of loss of control was liberating and both annihilating of the self, and empowering the self, at the same time. This kind of risk taking has always had its appeal, whether it is toxoplasmosis-induced, or socially sanctioned in the case of war time heroism, or just being bad ass. Some of us are wired for it. It’s what you do with it that counts.
Moreover, there is a section of Western late capitalist society where it actually makes sense to severely discount the future. This is the section of society where the three boys lived, among those who are poor and precarious. Here is an example of discounting the future. Generally, women who have their children later in life do better. Delaying child bearing makes economic and social sense. Teen pregnancy is a social problem. However, for the very poor and precarious, there is actually no advantage to delaying child bearing. Women in this social class age rapidly, have shorter life spans than richer women, and have unstable relationships. Things will never be stable enough for them to meet the ideal standards for beginning a family. By the time you are 38 you are a grandmother, and you probably are beginning to develop health problems. So do it now, find someone to love you now. In fact, do everything now.
There is no future more severely discounted than that of a boy in a car travelling at 130 kms in an inner city area, with the Police after him.
While I am interested in the deaths of these boys and the social and historical context, I am truly weirded out by the social media response. I have mentioned the two opposing views above which surface in conversation and in the comments sections of news websites. The social media pages of those involved in the case tell a stranger story.
There is a need among young people to be part of the drama and close to the action. Social media obviates this. In 2007, in Christchurch, a young man drove his car into a group of partygoers, killing two and injuring others. It was a large party that had got out of control, and a proportionately large number of the town’s teens were involved. Everyone knew someone who knew someone. Back then, social media consisted of texting and MSN. There was a flurry of texting and messaging, as the young people tried to position themselves close to the action. Someone had died, no they hadn’t, someone was in hospital and my sister’s friend’s cousin is with her, or maybe it is someone else, and so on. It was a tricky and inexact business, manoeuvring oneself into the frame. Now, it is much easier, less complicated, and instant.
The boys became heroes overnight. The spot where they died attracted not just the usual flowers, but tributes of cans of alcohol, cigarettes, and disturbing messages along the lines of we love you, and we will be with you soon. These themes continued into their Facebook pages. Social media commentary is of course disinhibiting, and people are more likely to behave in an uncivil fashion online. If the first comment on a thread is negative, the whole story is more likely to be seen in a negative light. Negative comments have more effect than positive ones. You can guarantee more heat than light.
When the families weighed in, things got weirder. Glen McAllister was named after his uncle, Glen senior, who murdered a man he did not know, and then killed himself, in 1989. Craig was named after his father. Craig senior spoke to media and attempted to distance himself from the events in 1989, and the deaths of his sons. He talked on Facebook about his distress, and then undermined his statements about himself by asking people to give him Ritalin in the comments section. He was viewed online wearing a cap that said RIP – FTP (Fuck the Police). Inflammatory? Or just a way of grieving when your locus of control is entirely external?
The boys’ mother Juanita Hickey attracted controversy by doing burnouts as a memorial tribute to her sons. "Mum did this for you two xxxx the average chicky don't burnout like that haha bet u boys loved it," Hickey wrote on her Facebook page. In response to some pretty staunch criticism she wrote:
“Might not be other people's way of honoring their loved ones, however it was OUR WAY! There is no right or wrong in how we grieve or celebrate a loss of loved ones so all the judgmental people, walk in my shoes before you act perfect. I'm as solid as they come. My boys it would have been your style so meh to the haters."
Juanita has a point. Grieving is about symbols. There is a bit of a tradition of burnouts at funerals. Not all funerals are Anglo Saxon and reserved. Among that group of people who are poor and precarious, and perhaps criminogenic, symbols are more important than articulate speeches and formalities. I have been to some funerals in the past that were not exactly classy. Instead, they were immediate, embodied, visceral and personal. In these spaces all raw tragedy emerges. Previously antagonistic and grieving family members find they get on like a house on fire – in fact sometimes there are no survivors, at least emotionally.
Juanita’s method of grieving also hits a nerve because that is not what mothers do. Mothers are supposed to be, well, mothery. They are supposed to be warm and present and self sacrificial, and to have endless empathy and time and cake and work hard and know every damn thing. They are not supposed to do burn outs, even on their best days. We guilt on mothers a lot. When you are a mother, you are the centre of a web of need. The threads of the web are held tight by the tension of competing needs. Let one thread go slack, and someone misses out. Usually it’s you. I imagine Juanita was a mother who let those threads go all the time. I imagine she made terrible choices in a milieu where choice was limited. I imagine she thought that love was enough, and her love was made fraught by her own needs. Let her grieve.
The issue of Glen’s naming is interesting to me because again it emphasizes the value of symbols in this subculture. What is it like to be named after an uncle who was a murderer? In the family, maybe it was framed as grief. Maybe it was an old family name that just had to go somewhere. There are often traditions of naming children after the dead. Perhaps the fact that Glen senior murdered someone was of little importance, compared with the need to mark his loss onto the next generation.
The events around the murder were rehashed in the public forum of Facebook. Craig senior was involved on that night in 1989, and was hauled over the coals for it. He blamed others, of course, and expressed that sort of twisted guilt that tried to show himself as trying to do the right thing, somehow, even though he plainly wasn’t, but it wasn’t his fault, not at all.
My hunch is that an event like a murder/suicide bleeds through the collective psyche of a family for generations. Nothing comes out of the blue. Back in 1989 Craig and Glen were skinheads involved in crime. Trouble begat trouble. Grief begat grief, and guilt begat guilt and twisted in on itself. Now three boys are dead, and so it goes.
So what can we do? I will tell you what I did, because what I can do here is almost unique. I do Shamanic psychopomp work, which is finding the souls of those who have died, and ensuring they go to where they need to be. Sometimes souls get stuck in ‘interworlds’ and this is where they get into trouble. From there they can haunt us, or they just sit there suffering. I undertake a journey into the interworld, accompanied by Power Animals who work with me for this purpose, and I help out.
I am not going to tell you the details, because this stuff always sounds far fetched and is unprovable, and it sometimes breaches a person’s privacy to describe it. However I will say this. When I find a soul stuck, I need to persuade it of three things:
So, imagine this. A boy with no attachments. A boy with no positive memories. He knows he is dead and he knows he is in a bad place, but it is no worse than anywhere else from his perspective. There is no one he wants to go to be with. There is no memory of somewhere he felt safe and loved, where he wants to return. One place is as bad as another. He does not care, and he has no cares. He has nothing, which was what he always had. It is a long and harrowing task to lift his poor head, talk to him straight, and help him move.
That is all.
No, not quite, because you may be wondering what this has to do with death care. I say, lots, because all of these issues are soaked in death. It is easier and much less controversial to think about the care around death – how we die, and how to care for our dead, and how to grieve. This article is in fact discussing these things, obliquely. The mess of death. The wrong of death. The chaotic risk of death. Thanatos at his most primal, and our society at its worst.