The immediate details about Fuchs' death, reported the morning of Wednesday, January 21 were pretty limited. He was shot in the throat in front of his home the night before by an unknown assailant.
Both, oh those details: Shooting. Homicide. Danville. Teenager. White teenager. All the ingredients to get the Bay Area media frothing were there.
Things like this don’t happen in Danville. Yes, that is true, violence of this sort rarely occurs in Danville, whereas in Richmond—shooting, homicide, teenager, black or Hispanic teenager—seems to be a fairly regular occurrence.
Actually, I once heard from a Contra Costa County Coroner’s deputy that he and other Coroner’s deputies and the Richmond cops have a nickname for the killings of young Richmond males of color. They call them “Richmond Naturals.”
So, the unusualness of such a crime in Danville meant that Fuchs’ death would in no way constitute a “Danville Natural,” and its rarity made it into a big, big story. But even with those initial sketchy details, we had to assume that the shooting of Fuchs wasn’t random. As with all those deaths in Richmond, and as with all murders in general, most homicide victims are killed by people they know. But since this was Danville, not Richmond, my immediate assumption was that Fuchs was killed by someone with whom he had some personal beef—over a girl or over some perceived sign of disrespect or social rejection. I, like most other people, probably didn’t jump to the conclusion that it was drug- or gang-related. But this is where my own personal biases about race and class initially came into play.
Within just a few hours of hearing about Fuchs’ death, I, like many others, discovered his MySpace and Facebook pages and learned that the San Ramon Valley High senior and his friends were very fond of using and distributing marijuana. Those pages showed him and friends posing next to what appeared to be marijuana. They also showed that he claimed affiliation to the “SRV Pot Smokers 09” and an organization that supports the decriminalization of marijuana.
Two days after the shooting, KTVU finally reported what those of us who had seen Fuchs’ Myspace and Facebook pages had come to suspect: that his death was drug-related. KTVU, citing a law enforcement source, said that Fuchs was killed in a dispute over a quarter-pound of marijuana. The next day, police publicly confirmed that his death could be “drug-related” when they announced the arrest of a 15-year-old boy who had once attended San Ramon Valley High.
Finally, it became clear that this killing in affluent Danville wasn’t all that different from those drug and gang killings that plague neighborhoods in Richmond.
As it happens, just as media coverage of Fuchs’ death began to wane, two students at Kennedy High in Richmond died in shootings within three days of each other.
Kudos to the Contra Costa Times reporters in Richmond for making a strong effort to give the deaths of these two boys equal time to that of Rylan Fuchs.
In a series of stories of these killings in Richmond, the reporters described the grief that those deaths caused their families and the shock and horror ripping through Kennedy High School. The Times published similar stories in the wake of Fuchs’ death. So did other media outlets. But the other media outlets, unlike the Times, gave scant notice to these Richmond killings or the amount of devastation that these deaths created.
Here are the basics about the killings in Richmond, as reported by the Times:
Cameron Russell, 15, a freshman at the south Richmond high school, died Friday, January 23 in an apartment where police say a group of teenagers were fooling around with a shotgun. The kid pulling the trigger was a Kennedy High junior, but the police are calling the shooting accidental.
Three days later, late on Monday afternoon, at about 5:40 p.m., Aaron Beltran, 16, died after he went to meet someone near a public park. As his girlfriend sat in the car waiting for him, he walked out view, and she heard the blast of multiple gunshots. Beltran died at the scene.
Police records show Beltran was recently released for previous brushes with the law. This bit of news would confirm the view of many that Beltran, like other Richmond homicide victims, was mixed up in something risky that got him killed. Gangs or drugs. Or maybe Beltran had disrespected someone in a way that we would consider trivial, but that kids over there regard as a matter of life and death.
Some might even say that Beltran and other poor, young minority males are asking to be killed.
But now some are saying similar things about Rylan Fuchs. I agree that such views are harsh in all three of these cases. No young person deserves to die like this. It might be more accurate to say that, just like Cameron Russell and Aaron Beltran, Fuchs was apparently engaging in risky behavior that put his life in jeopardy.
Not surprisingly, the public reaction to this Richmond sort of crime invading fair Danville hasn’t been pretty. There were reports that the suspect in Fuchs’ killing had relatives in Oakland and came from Alameda County,that he left high-achieving San Ramon Valley and briefly attended equally high-achieving Monte Vista High in Danville before being expelled for mysterious, unknown reasons in October. There were also reports that the suspect was living in a group home in Danville. Group homes, by their definition, according to state records, exist to house “troubled youths.”
It’s been interesting to follow what people have been writing on the Times’ message boards about Fuchs’ death: the race and class biases that have emerged. Some posters are angry that authorities are placing “troubled youths” (translation: poor, minority kids from tough towns like Oakland and Richmond, with legal problems or very dysfunctional family backgrounds) in group homes in their fair suburban communities. Some want the “little bastard” prosecuted to the full extent of the law. At least one poster blames single mothers in inner cities for raising future murderers.
But other posters have offered some good perspective and a dose of reality to suburbanites about the extent to which many of our kids are engaging in risky behavior. After all, kids in our affluent communities have access to more disposable income than kids in poor communities. And our kids aren’t spending all that extra cash on the latest Apple gadget. From the Times message boards:
"Open your eyes. Danville has dope running around its streets. If it didn’t, this would not have happened. Only difference is the youth have mommy and daddy’s money to openly appear clean and drug free."
“Dope and coke in Danville? DUH!! It’s been like that for 30 plus years in ALL of the Diablo Valley towns."
“If you play with fire, it is only a matter of time before you get burned. It doesn’t matter what city you live in, who your parents are, how much money you have, and so on. Look at the kinds of pictures [Rylan Fuchs] and his friends flaunted. They live a lifestyle that is ignored by the community either because everyone is in denial it can happen to their child, their family, their community, etc., or everyone is completely ignorant and blissful. I guess when all else fails, point the blame somewhere else. Oakland is always a good cop-out!”
“If [Fuchs] didn’t deal drugs with one person, he would have dealt it with another. Don’t you get it yet? Everyone involved is culpable … group home kids didn’t bring this to the [Danville]. It has always been going on in the city. As someone else suggested, maybe Danville should be named Denialville.”
A February 2007 news report, citing the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey, confirms that kids in our affluent suburbs are using alcohol and drugs pretty frequently and much more than kids over the hills in Oakland or Richmond:
“Correlating state Healthy Kids Survey results for school districts in Alameda and Contra Costa counties with data on free lunches that indicates relative levels of wealth in school districts, reveals youthful substance abuse is more common in the East Bay's richer areas.
"More-affluent districts generally had higher rates of juniors who admitted to binge drinking or consumed alcohol within 30 days of the survey. They also had higher rates of juniors who admitted having been high from drugs.
"In the state health report, 29 percent of 11th-graders in Lafayette's Acalanes high school district reported binge drinking in the previous 30 days. In the San Ramon Valley district, 26 percent of 11th-graders reported the same.
"In the less affluent Oakland and West Contra Costa districts, the number of juniors reporting binge drinking were 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
" 'You can make some general assessments that affluent areas have higher alcohol and marijuana use," said Sean Slade, regional manager for the California Healthy Kids Survey. He said he is confident the results are accurate: Studies show students are likely to answer truthfully when surveyed anonymously."