The scene where Glen Murphy and Mark Noonan were shot dead last month On Tuesday 23 November, cousins Glen Murphy (20) and Mark Noonan (23) left a friend's house to buy cigarettes at 20 minutes to midnight. They drove to a petrol station near the Clearwater shopping centre in Finglas in north Dublin. Soon after they got out of their car, they were shot dead by gunmen who were waiting in the forecourt.
That's that then. Another shooting in Finglas, another couple of kids dead. Except, not really.
The media uses a variety of coded phrases to get information across in a vaguely esoteric way. If a woman is found murdered and the person arrested is said to be "known to the victim" then it is most likely that it is her husband or partner.
If a body is found and the gardaí "aren't looking for anyone else in connection" with the death, then it's a suicide. If a man is shot and was "known to gardaí" then it's a gangland crime. In road deaths, phrases like "single vehicle collision" and "early hours of the morning" allude to speeding or drink driving or both.
There are plenty more nuanced phrases, words and clues that are planted – or indeed omitted – in news reports to get information across without actually spelling it out. The effect turns out to be a predictable framework of news reporting filled with repetitive phrases. Sometimes it feels as though you could just replace the names and places in a report and the "facts", generally made up of insinuations, would merely work around it. It's news bingo.
So hearing "two men shot in Finglas" sets off a variety of triggers in our assumptions based on how we have been trained to process news. Finglas = gangs. Guns = gangs. Young men = gangs. But sometimes, in spite of the vocabulary of reporting, things aren't always as they are assumed to be.
The chief inaccuracy was the actual location of the shooting. As the story broke, it was described as a "shooting outside Tesco" even though the two men weren't shot outside Tesco, and if the majority of people who were reporting on the shooting had bothered to travel to the area, they would have seen that they were shot outside a Tesco Extra petrol station, a good bit away from the actual supermarket. But with a shooting outside the most benign representations of the suburbs, a Tesco, is a slightly better story and more visual for the reader or listener, so let's go with that.
We were told it was a "gangland-style attack" and a "well-planned ambush". Then almost as an afterthought, it was mentioned that the victims were in fact not known to gardaí, that they had no known involvement in organised crime and that the motive for their murders was unclear. Oh, well, that changes it a bit then, doesn't it?
Imagine then if this shooting had happened in Dun Laoghaire, or Mallow, or Tullamore. What language would be used then? Well, for one, the murders would have actually got massive coverage, something these victims apparently didn't merit given that, apart from being unwitting victims of their geography, they were also victims of a busy news day which saw a double murder – a pretty big story – quickly shoved down the news agenda thanks to the economic news that was pouring out of government buildings and beyond.
Although they weren't "known to gardaí" for being involved in Dublin's sprawling gangland network – they were "minor criminals" apparently. What's a "minor criminal"? Someone who touts tickets outside gigs? Someone who was nicked for shoplifting a few times? Whatever it is, it's irrelevant to their deaths. If a businessman is done for fraud, are his parking tickets brought up in reports? Of course not. But bringing it up here appeased the narrative of victim-guilt that we have become to associate with gang crime. If you're shot, you probably asked for it, we have been taught.
We don't hear much about young men gunned to death, they're just clocked up in the annual statistics for annual gun crime. Even those guilty of crimes – drug dealers, hitmen, gangsters, or those guilty of crimes within crimes – owing money to drug dealers, getting on the wrong side of a gang, being associated with someone whose number is up.
And then, perhaps more tragically, those caught in the crossfire: mistaken identity, a gun that wasn't meant to go off, a young plumber in a house where a hit is being carried out, an unlucky bystander.
And lumping them all into one category that has a blurry file name of "gangs" or "Finglas" or "guncrime" or whatever else is just a convenient brushing aside that allows us as a society not to think about them. They were probably just junkies, "scrotes", dealers, criminals, gangsters. But what if they weren't? What if they were just buying cigarettes in a petrol station?
This weekend I'll be at the recording of Other Voices in Dingle, one of the most magical music events of the year for the past nine years. You won't be able to get much better on a winter's night tonight than watching The National with a handful of people in a tiny church. Jealous? Mwoahaha.
So now I know what it's like to sleep on the streets. On Wednesday night in sub-zero temperatures, I camped out on College Green in Dublin city centre from 9pm until 4am to raise money for Open Heart House on World Aids Day. So far me and my friend Will have raised over €2,300 online. Thanks so much for the support!
One thing this desperate weather has done is make businesses work extra hard for customers. With restaurants offering free coffees, and clubs dropping their cover charges, perhaps we'll see more snow-related value in the run up to Christmas. That's what I call a price freeze.
It's not the snow I hate, it's the ice. The snow is fine. Snow makes snowballs and snowmen and sledding possible. However, I have had a series of comedy falls last week thanks to the evil ice. Nothing like snotting yourself on multiple occasions in front of people...
December 5, 2010