Young life cut short

By Wickham Boyle

A student from my daughter’s kindergarten class at P.S. 234 was murdered last Wednesday. This sentence is misleading because it makes you think that the boy killed was a current student at the elementary school down the street from me in Tribeca. It makes you think there was a murder of an innocent, sweet-faced boy just barely stepping into life. I want you to think just that.

In fact Matthew Hall, 18, was a sophomore at Hunter College. When Matt and my daughter were at P.S. 234, he had a crush on her. She just left, returning to Massachusetts while Matt Hall was buried yesterday. He was a sweet-faced, open-hearted, bright boy. Both Matt and my daughter were true sophomores, “wise fools” in that they believed the world could be changed by kids like them who saw beyond color lines, geography and hatred. Both Willy, my girl, and Matt worked at Refuse and Resist, both came from muti-racial homes and truly saw themselves as citizens of the world with a place at the table in Tribeca, Harlem, and far beyond. They were both studying Buddhism, politics and while my kid is a hip-hop deejay at Mount Holyoke, Matt’s love of music took him to meetings of the Zulu Nation where he had recently been appointed as Chairmen in charge of promoting peace and understanding, and condemning racism and hatred through hip hop.

There are many stories circulating about how Matt Hall was murdered, but a few facts are incontrovertible. He was shot in the back of the head, he was shot Uptown in Harlem leaving a Zulu Nation meeting. He was brought back Downtown to the Village for his funeral.

The police are still trying to figure out if this was a case of mistaken identity, an unlucky person caught in a cross fire or a targeted murder. Does it make a different? Certainly not to his parents, to his friends, colleagues and professors who crammed the Holy Apostle Episcopal Church on Sunday. But my daughter was saying between gut wrenching sobs, that this murder is all the more tragic because it reinforces stereo types about kids from Downtown going Uptown. Willy said, “Kids are told, ‘Don’t go there it’s dangerous”, this attitude doesn’t promote a sense that all the city, all the world is an open heart waiting for you to visit, learn and be a part of it.”

She’s right. It does make me think twice that maybe some kids, some people whether they are mixed race, white or any color are not seen as of a place and therefore more vulnerable. Or did Matt get murdered as one of the rumors has it for bringing a white student to the Zulu Nation meeting? At the funeral, the members of the Zulu Nation made a plea for the killer to come forward and Hunter College has posted a reward. But if we learn why this shining star was killed will that help us and our kids make different or better decisions?

All of us remember the exact moment when one of our own generation dies. My neighbor upstairs recalls a 15-year-old who, as she said, either fell or was pushed from the George Washington Bridge. I recall a troubled 17-year-old, a boy who had a crush on me, driving his car at full speed into a brick wall. They later found a suicide note. He was seventeen. When a compatriot is murdered in a city, in neighborhoods where you roam so freely, where your paths cross from schools, to work, to parties it has to unravel the carefully constructed sense of security that has been woven around you for years.

Is there a way to warn kids that evil is all around us without making them paranoid and unable to trust or venture forth? Is that one of the daunting jobs of adulthood? Perhaps safety is a salve you have to apply to yourself, carefully soothing the raw spots with the unguent of belief in the over-arching goodness to be found in all of us, Uptown, Downtown and beyond.