The cruelest intersection

You can’t be in journalism for 50 years without having life’s ironies reach out of nowhere and slap you across the face on a regular basis. It just happened again.

My last blog was about six people – five pedestrians and one cyclist – who had been run down on the streets of my city and county in just the last few months.

For the record they are Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington and Rose M. McDonald.

The whole point of the blog wasn’t just that we kill too many people in our streets, but that because we do, their deaths almost invariably come and go with scant notice – a few paragraphs or brief mention on the air – in the news media.

As though they never really existed at all.

The lone cyclist especially seem to make my point, because she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Jan. 30 on Waldo Road. And talk about anonymous – days passed, and then weeks, without police releasing her name to the media.

On March 2, more than a month later, I finally contacted GPD and requested her name and an update on her murder. I was told that her name hadn’t been released because they were having trouble locating next of kin.

I got that reply in the morning. That same afternoon, GPD issued a press release identifying the woman as Rose M. McDonald.

Oh, and it asked anyone who might have witnessed her death to please come forward.

That belated bid for cooperation isn’t likely to bear much fruit.

As for “next of kin,” police really didn’t have to search very far. While GPD remained mute, people right here in Gainesville were already getting worried because they hadn’t seen or heard from Rose in a while.

Most of them likely didn’t even know her as Rose M. McDonald, but rather “Granny.”

I even knew her, but didn’t know it. She was that emaciated woman who often approached me as I walked into the downtown Starbucks. She didn’t always ask for money, in fact, I can’t recall now if she ever did. But she almost always smiled at me and wished me well.

When word of her death got around – weeks after the fact – there was widespread sorrow and shock among the city’s homeless advocates. Not to mention among the artists, musicians, government officials, downtown workers and others who had regularly interacted with Granny. It seems that everybody knew Granny and admired her unrelenting cheerfulness in the face of a life of utter deprivation.

Granny’s “next of kin,” held not one but two memorial services for her on the downtown plaza.

Turns out Rose had friends in both high and low places.

I should let this go, because, as I mentioned, we use our vehicles to slaughter so many of our fellow Americans that we can hardly pause to linger over the memory of any one of them – especially, some might argue, a street person.

Some of my fellow Americas no doubt shrugged off Granny’s death with a “it was probably her fault,” or “she shouldn’t have been in the road anyway.”

Or even, as one Facebook contributor commented last year when a panhandler was run down in the streets of Gainesville, “one less beggar.”

These are literally throwaway humans in our coarsened society. We see them huddled in doorways and sprawled on the sidewalks, and we try to look through them, past them, around them….anything to avoid the uncomfortable notion that the only difference between them and us may be a one or two lost paychecks or an emotional breakdown.

Certainly to the driver who left her to bleed out on Waldo Road Granny was little more than human garbage. I’d like to assume that whoever killed her has lost more than a little sleep, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Neither is it hard to imagine that the police investigating her death put less than 100 percent effort into the pursuit of justice for Granny. A homeless woman dead on the street isn’t exactly considered a crime wave.

Forgive my cynicism, but the lonely death of Granny Rose McDonald occurred at the intersection of two of the cruelest paths in American culture: Our hostility to the invisible people who sleep in our streets and make us uncomfortable, and our indifference to the toxic autoAmerican culture that sacrifices 40,000 lives a year in pursuit of our need for speed.