July 15, 2011

Children die all the time. They die from hunger. They die in natural catastrophes and car crashes. They die from diseases. And we weep. We weep for them and for their mothers and fathers. We weep because we know their parents’ sorrow, and we share their agony.

Then there is the child who dies at the hands of a villain — the young innocent who did no wrong but who, because of innocence itself, falls prey to the wicked. We share tears for that child, too. But there is more. We feel anger and helplessness as we struggle with the “why” of it all.

The psalmist says, “Do not fret yourself because of evildoers, do not be jealous of those who do wrong. For they shall so-on wither like the grass, and like the green grass, fade away.”

But it is the wicked who watches the child, the wicked who seeks to slay him; it is the life of the child, not that of the wicked, that is taken away.

That, too, is the story of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Brooklyn, whose dismembered body was found this week in the Borough Park community where he lived. Yes, New York is where the murder occurred. But it could have happened anywhere. Murders of children seem to occur everywhere nowadays.

There’s great angst in the tight-knit Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community where Leiby Kletzky drew his last breath. Questions abound: How could Levi Aron, the 35-year-old man who lives in his parents’ attic and who was arrested and reportedly confessed to murdering Leiby this week, have done such a thing?

“Everybody is confused here because this never happens between Jewish people,” barbershop owner Barukh Badalov told the New York Daily News.

But, of course, Mr. Badalov, it does.

Such things also happen in the African American community, and in largely white Anglo-Saxon Protestant neighborhoods, and in Latino communities. Christians do it to each other. Muslims, too. Grieving parents come in all shapes, sizes and colors. So, too, those who would kill.

One of my daily readings told me this week that earthquakes should kill wicked people, not young students in Haiti helping poor children. But, of course, earthquakes don’t discriminate. Neither does the sickness that causes a man to butcher a child. Or a father to throw his 4-year-old child “like a bag of garbage” (as a police officer said) from a car on Tuesday as they drove along a West Texas highway.

Despite our wishes, I read, we will never live free of injustice, at least not in this world. That is no balm. Little children die for no good reason.

And we are left with rage. What do we do with it?

Don’t turn it on ourselves, that’s for sure.

“How far would you let your kids walk alone?” is one of the questions being raised in the wake of Leiby Kletzky’s slaying. The boy, it turns out, was abducted as he walked three blocks home from summer camp. There’s a hint of recrimination in that question.

Let’s not lose sight of who is to blame. Leiby didn’t fall prey to “free-range” parents, the mothers and fathers who carelessly allow their children to do what they want when they want. They had rehearsed his walk home with him.

A predator would have snatched an 8-year-old boy off the street if the child had been found standing alone in front of his own home.

That kind of child-snatching can happen before your eyes.

Ask Robert Cox, who had just finished shopping with his 2-year-old son at the Germantown Best Buy on Wednesday afternoon when a man, who, according to arrest records, told police he was high on PCP, snatched the toddler and ran away. The father, helped by others, got his son back, but the boy was injured.

Keep the focus where it belongs: on those who do wrong. It’s not the child who runs free who is the problem. It’s the transgressor in our midst who would harm them. It is he who must be cut off.

Leiby Kletzky should have been able to walk to camp and back without being murdered. That 4-year-old in Texas had a right to not be thrown from a car. The 2-year-old deserved to shop without harm with his dad.

The wicked “shall soon wither like the grass, and like the green grass fade away.” Children die all the time. Damn it, they don’t have to.

kingc@washpost.com