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Editorial: Father takes the extraordinary step of forgiving the murderer of his son

It’s one of life’s mysteries that people as remarkable as Rodney Wilkins can exist, but it’s heartening, nonetheless – even if the suffering Buffalo man doesn’t see it that way. What Wilkins did last week was to demonstrate a level of humanity profound enough to overcome the bitter grief that enveloped him with the murder of his son.

Kevin Wilkins was shot to death in 2011. On Monday, 22-year-old Tyrone Brown was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the murders of Wilkins and another man, and two attempted murders. Standing in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, the father forgave the killer.

“I don’t know how I can say this,” Rodney Wilkins was barely able to choke out, “but I forgive you. I think Kevin would have wanted me to forgive you.”

There was, perhaps, a degree of self-interest in the words of a bereaved man whose other children still cry for their brother and who needed a way to let his family move on. But how many people could take that giant, emotional step, relieving themselves of torment – perhaps – by letting go of debilitating rancor?

Not nearly so moving, but worth noting, was Brown’s response. A member of the Bailey Boys gang, Brown not only admitted killing Kevin Wilkins and Harold McCain – as well as taking  part in two other attempted murders – but he turned to the families of his victims and apologized.
“Thank you,” Rodney Wilkins said later. “I needed that.”

Brown wouldn’t be the first offender to have a sudden change of heart when faced with the terrible consequences of his despicable actions, of course, so there is no telling if the apology was genuine or manipulative. And, in the end, it may not matter much, at least immediately.

Assume for the moment, though, that Brown meant what he said. It highlights the tragedy of wasted lives, including his own, and also offers a clear warning to other young men being drawn into the vortex of gang life: The price can be more than anyone would want to pay. There are better choices.

The temptation is great, especially in poor neighborhoods. Just to belong is tempting – it’s the allure of fan clubs, even – but the illusion of power and potential for what looks like easy money can be irresistible. Murder and prison are not many steps further along that darkened road. And not many people will be as forgiving as Rodney Wilkins was last week.

Wilkins’ willingness to rise above unthinkable pain is the lone bright spot in a terrible episode. In demonstrating unfathomable courage, he set an example for others who will someday walk in his shoes, as well as those who are tempted by those now worn by Tyrone Brown.

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