You are on page 1of 5

This presence spoke volumes to Jill Leovy, a Los Angeles Times reporter sent to New York City to cover

the attacks. Returning home to LA, she realized that the same presence could be felt ten minutes from her office, at the front of what Yahoo’s People of the Web of October 14, 2007 calls “The Invisible War.” Every day, three people are killed in Los Angeles County, a rate so high that the LA Times only covers 9% of the cases. In the LA Times of February 13, Levy explains that she is on a mission to reverse the mainstream news’s negligence and provide homicide coverage for those whose lives are most affected by it. Her blog, The Homicide Report, is her tireless effort to expose every single murder in LA County. With Levy’s mission in mind, we can ask the question: “In illuminating the reality of homicide, does The Homicide Report build a presence for its victims?” To answer this question, we will turn to Karen Foss and Kathy Domenici’s model, Haunting Argentina: Synecdoche in the Protests of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, from the August 2001 Quarterly Journal of Speech. This model studies the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that demands information about their disappeared children from the government of Argentina. For thirty years, the Mothers’ rhetorical strategies have built a haunting presence for the vanished, making this an ideal model for Leovy’s efforts. Let us first, examine Foss and Domenici’s model, then apply it to The Homicide Report, before finally drawing implications. Foss and Domenici describe haunting as “experiencing the presence of a disembodied spirit in a form that transcends time and space.” The Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo exemplify this strategy because they insist “that disappearance exists and is living with us, doing things to us, scaring us, and making us inconsolably lonely, or crazy,

or unable to see what is right in front of our faces.” Foss and Domenici explain that haunting requires three steps: Embracing marianismo, utilizing representative anecdotes, and defining a space. First, embracing marianismo. Foss and Domenici explain that part of the Mothers’ power comes from marianismo, “the cult of feminine spiritual superiority and selfsacrifice that makes for an ideal mother within the Latin American tradition.” To create a haunting, one must first build this maternal emotional connection through dedication and self-sacrifice. Second, utilizing representative anecdotes. Foss and Domenici discuss the idea of synecdoche, where a part represents the whole. Basically, something small illustrates a big picture. In the case of the Mothers, they embraced small slogans, like “Aparicion con vida,” or “Bring them back alive,” to build momentum for their larger cause. Finally, defining a space. To use haunting as a rhetorical frame, one must “move outside of themselves…to create a space that could be accessed by others who do not know about the disappeared.” As with the Mothers’ Plaza de Mayo, the haunting presence must be experienced publicly and create the feeling that there’s an unresolved problem. With that explanation, lets see how Foss and Domenici can help us understand the L.A. County homicide victims’ haunting presence. First of all, Foss and Domenici discuss the idea of marianismo. Leovy explains that hearing the grief-stricken mothers’ stories takes an enormous emotional toll, “I get a headache in the interview, a headache when I go over my notes, and a headache when I try to write about it. I am secretly afraid of my notes on these stories. I hate my notes. I sometimes avoid them for days before I have the courage to go back to them.” In her

Slate diary on October 23, 2003, Leovy recounts the interview of a mother whose 16year-old who was chased and shot repeatedly until he fell to the ground, where the killer unloaded the rest of his gun. The previously mentioned People of the Web goes on to explain that Leovy’s pursuit of these stories leads her to streets where most people fear to tread. Diving into a sea of gang-related violence takes a tremendous personal risk. And doing so for four years, illustrates Leovy’s long-term dedication to the cause. Second, utilizing representative anecdotes. In the case of the Homicide Report blog, Leovy’s goal isn’t just to illustrate that people are dying, but also to paint a bigger picture: A crisis of ethnic and racial violence. A December 10 report reads: "Patrick Moore, 47, a black man, was listed as a homicide victim by the Los Angeles County coroner after his remains were found in two Dumpsters around 3:30 p.m. Friday, December 7.” Although some critique the obituaries for listing specifics like race, Leovy states in a June 6, 2007 posting, “we opt here to present information which lays bare racial and ethnic contours of the problem so conspicuous in the coroner's data. The goal is to promote understanding, and honor a basic journalistic principle: Tell the truth about who suffers.” In LA County, 47% of the population is Latino, 29% white, and 9% black. Yet Latino men are five times more likely than whites to die, and blacks are 16 times more likely. Leovy represents the whole of this problem through its individual parts. Finally, defining a space. Before Leovy’s blog, LA County residents lacked a place to express their grief. Leovy’s efforts now allow readers to move beyond the obituaries. Some post commentary on those they knew; a friend of Craig Moore, an 18year-old murdered on December 1, says "I'm at a loss for words. This is the third person that I have had the pleasure of playing football with to be killed this year. " Others

discuss the broader subject of urban violence. Beyond the blog, the homicide map provides the same content with visual context. Each “pin” on a Google Map can be clicked on to reveal that a person—a real person, with a name, an age, and an ethnic identity—was killed at that location. For those who view the map, the street corner where a person died will forever bear the presence of that person. Now that Foss and Domenici have illustrated how Leovy built a presence for her victims, we need to draw implications for social movements in general and futile ones in particular. First, the primary difference between Leovy and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is that the Mothers were related to the victims. While the Mothers built their credibility by perpetuating the cause of their lost children, Leovy’s sacrifice does not stem from literal marianismo. Rather, she adopted the cause of the LA homicide victims and through her sacrifice illustrates how it is not necessary to have a familial connection to a social plague to speak on behalf of those who do. In other words, marianismo, or more generally credibility, arises from self-less dedication to a movement and providing a means for catharsis. Second, perhaps the biggest suspect in all of LA’s murders is the city itself. In the LA Weekly of December 12, 2007, Peter Landesman points out that LA is the birthplace of the modern gang, stating that "the enormous spread of the city and the lack of public transportation turned its vast freeway and street system into a network of boundaries that cuts the city into hundreds of isolated pieces." These boundaries facilitated in dissecting the population and generating massive turf wars. In fact, LA Weekly estimates that LA County has over 714 gangs and 80,000 gang members. One in every one hundred people

is either a hardcore soldier or an "associate" -- a getaway driver, a lookout, a crack cooker, or some other type of affiliate. A problem this extreme and this rooted in a major city's layout is frustratingly difficult to solve, and probably won't be. Yet it would be nice to think Leovy's efforts amount to more than charging at the windmill. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still haven't gotten the recognition they wanted for the desperecedos, yet they continue their struggle for resolution. In giving the dead some recognition-perhaps more than they ever would have gotten in life--Leovy manages to eliminate the invisibility that may have drawn the person toward gang violence in the first place. And she illuminates how a person killed by factors beyond their control can generate a powerful impression--an impression that, as the metaphor 'haunting' implies, feels just a bit more than rhetorical.