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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Senseless horror ends two lives

Someday, we will learn what was on Cleave Gittens’ mind. Someday, we will discover how Tuvarrion “Jay” Sirmons, by all accounts a cheerful youngster, a Zephyrhills High School sophomore who commanded loyalty and laughter in equal measures, managed to get on Gittens’ bad side. And in the course of that discovery, we also might find getting on Gittens’ bad side wasn’t especially difficult.

They knew Gittens at the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, after all. He did nine months in the county jail, Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters Friday night, and early on established a reputation as “that person on the block that everybody had a problem with.”

Not that that has anything specifically to do with what went down Friday night at the Meadow Pointe II clubhouse, although it does suggest tendencies.

What we are unlikely ever to know with certainty is what Sirmons was thinking, although his friends say he wasn’t the sort to go looking for a fight. They also say he wouldn’t shrink if the fight came to him. Either way, his specific frame of mind went with him to his death, fading to nothing with the life’s blood that flooded out of stab wounds inflicted, authorities say, by Gittens, whose previous act, just before authorities say he reached for the capital felony rung on the career criminal ladder, was throwing rocks.

Kids’ stuff.

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It isn’t as if no one knows what happened. Investigators know the source of the dispute, but aren’t saying. “That will most likely come out at trial,” a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said. Well, fine.

While we wait, let’s say this: What will you bet it was something stupid? Something trivial? Something either one of them could have — should have — walked away from, something that would have seemed less important the next morning, and forgotten within a week?

Besides, knowing what went before never will make it right. Knowing never will cause it to make sense. Neither is even remotely achievable here.

Jay Sirmons, barely old enough to drive and certainly too young to grasp the limits of youthful invincibility, is dead. And there’s a strong likelihood his alleged assailant, having logged just enough birthdays to be considered a man, tossed away the balance of his life when he drew back his knife.

The families of both will grieve. Rightly so.

Sadder still, if such a thing is possible, is how quickly it will be forgotten, buried by other events, other causes, other concerns.

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The awfulness that erupted between Gittens and Sirmons is black-on-black crime, terrible in and of itself and an unremitting nightmare to loved ones on both sides, but no cause celebre for the rest of us. More’s the pity. We will be a better nation when our eagerness to decry killings, seek justice and the rest does not depend on the antagonists having contrasting skin color.

But there is no George Zimmerman peg here from which we can hang an indictment of America’s original sin, so all too soon we will dismiss the episode as just another of those moments when one black male crossed the line of disrespect and another black male, armed with the means to respond with permanence, wouldn’t back down.

One family brings its funeral clothes out of the closet. Another learns the jail visitation schedule.

It happens in your bigger cities every day.

None of which means that Jay Sirmons looks anything less like the son President Obama might have had, or that his killing is any less tragic than Trayvon Martin’s. Along those lines, we will leave it to others to observe whether, based on resumes, Sirmons’ absence will leave the bigger crater.

Meanwhile, the grief counselors do their sorrowful, necessary work, paving the way to put the whole dreadful mess behind us. But being too quick about moving forward would be a crime, too.

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