Thursday, December 13, 2007


Tonight’s season finale of Law & Order: CI is called “Senseless,” and it depicts a truly senseless crime—the August 4, 2007 executions of three Delaware State College students in a Newark school yard. A fourth student has survived her injuries. Members of the gang MS-13 have been arrested and await trial.

The crime seemed random, and vicious and even though we hear about horrible acts on a daily basis, this one was particularly hateful. We also have watched many Law & Order franchise episodes. Seems like they coined the phrase, “ripped from the headlines.” We are often amazed by how quickly they air shows that are clearly based on a recent event. We even comment on the twists they make in the facts to put a different spin on the story—and to keep from being sued?

But this time the families of the victims are upset. They are angry at not being consulted or even notified about the show, at being faced with this dramatization while they are trying to heal. Click here: Newark schoolyard killings to appear on 'Law and Order' - Breaking News From New Jersey - Producers of the show have said they never consult those involved or their relatives. What we don’t know, is how many other families have been similarly affected, re-victimized as it were, by the show in the past.

When events in a work of fiction are based on specific and identifiable events, what is the writer’s responsibility to those being depicted? We have our first amendment freedom of speech to protect us, but do we owe any kind of consideration to the people whose stories we tell? James Harvey, the father of Dashon Harvey who was killed in the attack, is concerned with how the four young people will be portrayed. Will viewers assume that whatever is shown on TV is fact? There is a disclaimer before each show begins, stating that the events depicted are purely fictional. Does anybody read it?

And when is too soon. When the 2006 movie United 93, about the 9/11 plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, opened, many people complained that it was too soon. This schoolyard shooting was only four months ago. Do we at least owe people some time to deal with their grief? Or must we get the story while it’s hot?

In our novels we have chosen very deliberately not to write thinly veiled versions of events from our personal lives. First, in telling our stories we would put our friends, loved ones or even hated ones in the spotlight and they did not consent to have their lives open for discussion. And frankly, we’re not too eager to have our business in the street. Of course we use experiences in our lives as a jumping off point, but they are not easily identifiable, although people who know us very well sometimes have an idea what inspired the threads of a particular story.

Readers often ask us if the stories we tell are from real life and frequently seem disappointed when we tell them they are not. Do readers feel a novel is somehow more “authentic,” if the events really happened? Which means it’s not really a novel at all but a work of non-fiction. Have we been inundated with so much “reality,” TV (which is mostly no more real than the tooth fairy)—that a well crafted story no longer has a place?

Natasha Aeriel, the only survivor of the attack, celebrated her 20th birthday on Sunday. Her brother Terrance, who was killed in the attack, would have been 19 the day before. What are she and her family, along with the families of Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey supposed to do tonight?
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 12:29 PM


Blogger Julie said...

Don't watch. Write to the tv shows writers, poducers, etc. Write to the companies who are airing commercials for their products during the show. Let it be known if you think they are wrong. The pen is indeed mighty.

12:42 PM  
Blogger DeBerry & Grant said...

Indeed. We were just talking the other day about the power of the boycott back in the "olden days!" Since we know it's all about the benjamins.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous concerned said...

How dare they not ask the family. Please let these children rest before anything is ever made about them again.

5:08 PM  
Blogger DeBerry & Grant said...

The episode did handle the subject in a more "poetic" way than usual, but the fact remains that this is real. Of course, most of the L&O episodes are based on true stories so we also have to ask ourselves is it EVER ok for them to take these incidents that happen to real people and turn them into entertainment?

5:23 PM  

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