On December 1, 2014, the fate of a young man’s life rested with a Brooklyn jury. As grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York handed down no true bills in two cases of African-Americans losing their lives at the hands of white police officers, the story of Christian Ferdinand and his victim Shaniesha Forbes, a 14-year old African American girl from Brooklyn, was tragically lost in the shuffle of the more politically charged news of the day. Theirs are stories worth telling, especially in light of celebrity protests and social media posts proclaiming the rallying cry of protesters: “Black Lives Matter.” Indeed, they do.
Mr. Ferdinand met Shaniesha through Facebook when he was 20 and she was 14. The two began an online relationship, and ultimately met and had sexual relations. When Shaniesha told Ferdinand that she was pregnant and refused to get an abortion because her mother was religious, Christian smothered her with a leather pillow, stuffed her body into a suitcase, and kept it for two days before bringing it to a Brooklyn beach and attempting to light it on fire. The Kings County medical examiner ruled her death a homicide by asphyxiation.
There are many facets to this story that should have garnered national attention: social media’s role in fostering inappropriate relationships between adults and minors, a culture that promotes casual sex as a social norm, a murder of convenience, or the delusion of the killer who thought community service was an appropriate punishment for killing a young woman and burning her body to hide the crime. Any of these elements could stand on their own as the makings of a banner New York Post headline. But it is the words of Christian Ferdinand, recorded for posterity through the permanence of a text message, that place this appalling end to a young life in a separate category from, for example, the 14 murders that occurred over July 4th Weekend in Chicago this summer. “My nigga, are you serious,” Ferdinand texted to Shaniesha in an attempt to get her to abort her baby, “[k]ill that s–t.”
The words bear repeating: “My nigga, are you serious? Kill that s–t.”
As if murdering a girl and burning her corpse wasn’t enough of an indicator of Ferdinand’s warped brutality, the reference to a human being–the man’s own offspring–as a piece of excrement sadly displays just how, in many instances, black lives do not matter these days.
Earlier this year, The National Review and other outlets reported that 6,500 more black babies were aborted than were born in New York City in 2012. In total, 74,000 pregnancies were terminated, and 73% of that number were black or Hispanic. I have walked through many of the public housing projects in the Bronx and Brooklyn where, doubtless, many of these mothers make the tragic decision to abort their children. Many on the left, and some on the right, assert that a life born into such abject poverty is not worth living and that women in these projects are making the right choice for themselves and for society by aborting a child that would otherwise lead a life of misery.
I cannot state, with any degree of certainty, that my view on abortion would be the same as it is now had I myself grown up in one of these housing projects. What I do know is that, despite the personal catastrophe and societal failure that in most cases abortion represents, it is next to impossible to get a liberal to agree that abortion is ultimately nothing but a tragedy for the baby, for the mother and father, and for society.
Some 75 years ago, a young orphan arrived in New York City from his native home of Puerto Rico. Both of his parents had died of tuberculosis, and he was sent to live with his aunt who cared for him. After graduating from City College, and later Brooklyn Law School, Herman Badillo became the first Puerto Rican member of Congress, Bronx Borough President, and candidate for Mayor of New York. A towering figure of New York politics, Badillo advised both Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki, focusing his efforts on reforming the broken City University system which languished and lay decimated under a failed open enrollment system. Badillo, himself a product of the street, thought that every life had value and was worth fighting for. As a champion for the minority communities he served, his career demonstrated a passion for equality of opportunity, not necessarily outcomes, and he died with the endearing respect of the city he served his whole life.
On the same day as Christian Ferdinand’s jury passed judgment on him, Herman Badillo died. How tragic would it have been for the world had Herman Badillo’s mother, herself living in a poor community, aborted him or had he himself not worked hard through much adversity on what amounted to foreign shores all of his life and risen to the highest positions of government? How ironic is it that this great man died on the same day that Christian Ferdinand learned that his life would be devoid of this same opportunity for at least 25 years, while he serves his time in an upstate New York prison? And how terrible is it that Ferdinand took any hope or opportunity from young Shaniesha forever?
The heart-wrenching sadness of this story, as if the grief of losing a daughter could be surpassed, is that the Kings County medical examiner also reported that young Shaniesha was not, in fact, pregnant when she was murdered.
Shaniesha’s story is not a deflection for the real grievances that many in minority communities (and many in the white communities) hold towards what they perceive as law enforcement’s overreach, abuse, and corruption. Senator Rand Paul has been vocal in his criticism of the militarization of our police departments, and many on the libertarian right and progressive left agree with him. Nor should Shaniesha’s story–or any of the thousands of similar tales of minority community abortions or murders–be used as either a substitute for this current important political discussion of civil rights, or as a rejoinder to the violent protests focused on perceived police brutality. “Until the protesters acknowledge the problems in their own communities,” this line of thinking goes, “ignore them.”
Despite what partisans on all sides of this issue would have us believe, these issues are not mutually exclusive. They must be considered together. Without a respect for human life, the seeds of trust and progress will never take root in what is otherwise a desolate garden of urban decay.
In the end, black lives do matter. Shaniesha Forbes’s life mattered just as much as Eric Garner’s.