Once again, Dunn faces the world’s violence

by Gary Shelton on July 19, 2016 · 1 comment

in general

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

His voice is quiet. His eyes are calm. His life is passive.

But the violence has never been far enough away from Warrick Dunn. It ripped his mother from his arms. It dropped his family in his lap. It has shaped him, molded him, turned him into the man that he is today. All of his life, all of the good things he has done, has been a response to the violence of his life, violence that will never seem to leave him alone.

And here it is again.

Gunshots and blood. Families crying in the night. Confusion and chaos.

And pain.

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He is my favorite athlete, all time. I have seen the impact he has had on lives, the way he has shaped them into his mother's image. He was quiet, unassuming, as a player. Most of us didn't know of the depth of his conflicts. I once had a nephew who loved Michael Vick. Not Vick, I told him. Dunn. That's the kid you care about.

He was a quiet man. But Dunn cared about people, and not just his people. He told me once that when he was raising his brothers, he became so angry at a brother just barely younger than him that he threw him out of the house and made him sleep by the swimming pool. He told me about seeking the help of a psychiatrist to sort out his problems.

How much can violence affect one man? There was the 18-year-old whose mother was killed. There was the young pro who was raising his brothers and sisters. There was the man who was driven to the prison to confront his mother's murderers. And now there is this. It seems life aways is spilling blood around Dunn. It seems he always has anguish to sort through.

In other words, life has been a struggle for Dunn, too. He was fast, and he was talented, but even as he ran, his heart was breaking.

He was a guardian long before he was ready, trying to fill his brothers and his sisters with the memory of his mother, a police officer who was gunned down in Baton Route when he was a teenager. Betty Smothers was a woman who loved her children, and when she was torn from them while escorting a businessman to the bank back in 1993, it left a hole in Dunn that would never go away.

And now there is this. There is fresh blood in the streets of Baton Rouge. Three police officers were killed Sunday, two weeks after two policemen killed a man named Alton Sterling. There are other children, crying Dunn's tears. There are other families feeling Dunn's pain.

“My heart breaks for the families and law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge who have lost loved ones,” Dunn said. “I have been in similar shoes — it will change their lives and leave them reeling with questions for years to come. It is a shame — so many officers who are out there on the front lines have tremendous heart for what they do. These acts of violence don’t solve anything and if my voice can add to the movement to stop it — then I’d consider that a good thing. I struggle emotionally to understand why and how police officers are being targeted in the way they are.

“The reality of our world is that there is a lot of unrest in our communities, particularly where police shootings are happening. It takes me back, of course, to when my black mother was ambushed and killed — by a black man. And all of this comes at a terribly personal time for me. Next week, I will attend trial for a re-sentencing hearing for my mother’s murder which happened 23 years ago. I hate to even think of what this entire ordeal will cost our community, but I know — it is too much. And even though my Mother lost her life all those years ago, the men who were tried by a jury of their peers have been kept alive by a prison system that has seen to their every need. Something that was denied to my Mother.”

It strikes me that no one might quite feel the emotions of Dunn. He is black. His mother was a murdered police officer. He was a kid. He is still young enough to feel his own pain.

“We can’t just sit around and talk about how horrible all this is — we have to do something,” Dunn said. “And that means it ALWAYS starts with the individual.

“One of the things I am doing is taking the role of fatherhood very seriously so I can raise a son who makes a positive contribution. I am striving to be there for him emotionally, physically and intellectually. I want to give him something I never had because the statistics proves it makes a difference when a child has an active father in his or her life. And we have to do more to build empathy in children so they have a hard time treating one another badly. It all starts with kids, so we all have to care about kids. Especially kids at risk for never learning how to socially and emotionally relate.

“Another thing we can all do is stress to our elected leaders that we have to look at the issue of guns in our country with serious eyes and intent instead of (through) the prism of a political stand-off. And then we have to give justice a chance to work. When people are intentional about their use of guns against others — we have to make sure the message that crime doesn’t pay — means something. Today, I wonder about that because from my view with my Mother’s trial, justice has failed our family, but I believe we can and must do better.”

“We also have to challenge the status quo and ensuring that the laws on the books are enforced. Of course, I know there are officers who do not do the right thing — that is true in every profession. But when murder is a planned event — the rule of law should matter and loopholes or sophisticated lawyering have to stop. Why have laws if we aren’t going to enforce them?

“I feel close to this subject — it has touched me very personally. I speak for no one other than myself and I support law enforcement. I also support the community of Baton Rouge because they were there for me and my family. If I could have any effect, I’d ask the community to stop the violence, to cool down and to come together to figure this out. There is nothing we can’t do, but we have to work together to make something positive come from yet another tragedy in my home town.”

Perhaps the bravest thing I've ever seen a man do was in 2007. Dunn went to Angola to face Kevan Brumfield, one of the men who was convicted of killing his mother, of ending her life and changing his. For more than an hour, he tried to find his peace.

Dunn said he didn't want go. He needed to go.

"I'm trying to find peace and get to a point in my life where I can move on," Dunn said at the time. "It's hovered over my life. It's been 14 years. It's been a long, long journey to get to this point.

"I think it's just where I am in my life. You do reopen doors and wounds and emotions. But I got an opportunity to say some things and express how I felt. I'm happy that I did it."

Eventually, you would like for Dunn to stop hearing the gunshots. You would like for him to live a gentle life, to continue to change lives.

Eventually, for Dunn, there needs to be sweet silence.

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