Prayers and Condolences

This post, I feel certain, will not be well-received by some readers. But I implore you to read it carefully. Make sure you understand exactly what I am saying—and what I am not saying— before reacting, with understandable anger, given the subject matter.

That subject matter is the horrible shooting murder recently of two courageous young New York City police officers—and the response of New York City Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan of Harlem, where the murders took place.

Jordan, in a statement of condolence to the families of Officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, sparked public outrage by also sending condolences to the family of the shooter, Lashawn McNeil, who was shot and killed by police after killing Rivera and Mora.

To put this in full context, it’s important to acknowledge that Jordan, a democratic socialist with a “political style” that the New York Times calls “revolutionary activist,” has been quite radical in her anti-police rhetoric. She has “equated the policing system with slavery” and called not just for “defunding” the police, but for the “abolition” of police departments, according to the Times.

And it does seem distasteful, to say the least, for her to have led a vigil just days after the murders that seemed to memorialize not just the slain police heroes, but their killer as well.

So stipulating Jordan’s demonstrated anti-cop agenda, my attention here is focused on a larger question: Do the families of those who have committed horrific crimes ever merit our compassion and condolences—and our prayers?

Often, I submit, they do. Consider Shirley Sourzes, Lashawn McNeil’s mother.

Days after the shooting, with Officer Rivera dead and Officer Mora near death, she told the New York Post she deeply regretted having called 911—not because her son was also dying, although she must certainly have felt that too; but because her son had shot both responding officers.

As the Post reporter told it:

“‘A weeping Shirley Sourzes said she is beside herself thinking about the parents of the two shot cops, slain rookie NYPD Officer Justin Rivera and critically wounded Finest Wilbert Mora.

“‘If I knew, I never would have made the phone call,’ said the mom, whose plea to 911 about her mentally unstable son brought officers to the Harlem home Friday evening—when an armed McNeil allegedly opened fire on them without warning.

“’I would never have called!’ Sourzes said.”

Addressing herself at that time to Officer Rivera’s parents—surely she had the same sentiments when Officer Mora later died— the Post story continued:

“’I would like to say to Mr. and Mrs. [Rivera] that I am deeply sorry,’ the mom said through tears. ‘I know that there is not words that I can express. Your pain. Your sorrow.

“‘Me and my family are not proud of my son taking of life.

“‘There is nothing I can say to heal your sorrow, but God is a comforter. … And I know that he sent your son to do his will,’ she said, addressing Rivera’s parents. ‘I don’t understand it. It’s not fair. My heart goes out to you and your family.'”

Speaking of her son, Ms. Sourzes told the Post “His mental state is very distorted, and that’s all I can say.

“I told him to submit himself to help. At this point, his mental state was incapacitated. He thought he was God, and he wouldn’t submit himself to no one.”

Think of all the anguish this mother has gone through and is going through: the pain of seeing her son’s mental state deteriorate; repeated run-ins with the criminal justice system as his behavior became violent; the constant fear of what harm he might bring on himself, or do to others; the heartbreak of having to call the police on her own son, as his behavior that night became threatening; the horror of watching him shoot down two police officers who answered her call for help. 

This is the lot of so many who have a family member struggling with violent mental illness: anguish over their loved one’s suffering; a sense of powerlessness when nothing they or others do seems to help; the constant fear that their loved one poses a danger to himself or others; and, when lethal harm does result, their overwhelming grief and sense of guilt.

To pray for, and offer condolences to, these stricken families in no way diminishes the sorrow and compassion we feel, or the prayers we offer, for families whose loved ones have been violently killed by a mentally disturbed person.

As a Catholic Christian, my heart goes out to all of them; along with my prayers that they experience God’s healing love and consolation.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

2 thoughts on “Prayers and Condolences

  1. Rick, you’ll get no objections from me. This woman lost a son under circumstances that no one would have chosen. I want to comment on the paragraph toward the end that begins “This is the lot of so many who have a family member struggling with violent mental illness…” Preemptive measures must be put in place to minimize (if not, alas, eliminate) things like this happening. Persons such as this young man should be — bad term I know, but .. — taken into custody and given a place to live where they can be supervised under conditions where they won’t pose a threat to themselves or to society in general. I’m not talking incarceration, of course, but some sort of group housing that will also have personnel to ensure that the residents are taking their meds. In addition to controlling the threat they pose, it would undoubtedly relieve the anguish of parents/loved ones such as this poor mother who ,as you say, are otherwise powerless to do anything. God bless all your good work, Rick.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy, you are absolutely right, we need to be proactive in offering real help to mentally troubled people–not all of whom are prone to violence, something that needs to be emphasized. Society needs to be protected from those who are, but as you note, we also need to be responding to those who are suffering themselves whether or not they are a danger to others. It was heartbreaking seeing people on the streets every day when I was working in the city, cold, hungry, with no place to live, no one to care for them, and clearly unable to care for themselves. Again, not everyone with mental illness is that bad off, but we need to respond, and to assist their hurting families as well.

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