Friday, April 26, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Let’s listen to victims

Life turns on a dime and anyone can go from happily living life to living life as a victim of crime or tragedy. And when victims need to talk about it, you need to listen.

That was the message earlier this week from Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham and Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who spoke during a commemoration service for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Maybe if the room had been filled with known victims, the message would have been different. Almost certainly, someone would have spoken words intended to comfort. But Darr noted that many in the audience were elected officials or worked in the offices at the courthouse. There were also police chiefs, prosecutors, a circuit judge, Department of Human Services workers and workers from the county office that deals specifically with victims — people who either witness or hear daily about unspeakable wrongs. And comments were more cautionary than heartening.

Graham said that, as a former police officer, he understood how easy it is to become hardened to the pain of others. But apathy as self-protection is a disservice to victims who need to be heard.

“We get so callous, guys. We can’t do that,” Graham said.

Darr, the featured speaker, echoed that sentiment. He reminded the elected officeholders in the room to remember why they said they ran: to help people.

“At the end of the day, caring about people is all that matters,” the lieutenant governor said.

He advised against saying you understand what victims are going through unless you’ve been through it yourself.

“The reality is we don’t know how they feel. And the true reality is we don’t want to know how they feel,” he said. “Open your heart to people. Don’t get so busy we don’t see that people are hurting, be willing to help.”

The ceremony, if it could be called that, was short and seemed a little disjointed. Neither Graham nor Darr had prepared speeches. And the cake and punch at the back of the room at county annex where the ceremony was held seemed out of place considering the reason for the gathering.

But what it lacked in polish was made up for by the simple message of the speakers: Victims need to be able to talk about what has happened to them and listening is not just the least we can do. Sometimes it is all they need from us.