Punish this disrespectful, violent act

Published 8:41 pm Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sometimes, the news is just too hard to believe.

Such was the case on Wednesday, when officials announced they had determined that an 83-year-old woman who died of injuries she received in an August fall was actually the victim of a homicide.

Elizabeth Newby was attending a senior citizens’ luau at the National Guard Armory in Suffolk on Aug. 12, when another woman — age 58 and unnamed by city officials until an investigation is complete — thought that Newby was cutting in front of her in the line to enter the building.

The unidentified woman apparently responded in a fashion that speaks volumes about the ascendant American concept of entitlement and just as loudly about the faltering idea that we should respect our elders: She pushed the perceived offender out of the way, knocking down and injuring both the 83-year-old and an 89-year-old nearby.

It was a scene that might have been imagined as a punch line in a Hollywood farce, except that it was horribly real, and its results were tragic. The 89-year-old hit her head, but she apparently has recovered from her injuries.

The 83-year-old — whose only crime was that she allegedly got in front of a woman 25 years younger than she — broke her hip in the fall. As many folks with elderly family members or friends are well aware, a broken hip can be a death sentence to an octogenarian.

And so it was in Mrs. Newby’s case. She paid a heavy price for the mistake of crossing someone whose idea of honoring her elders was to treat them with arrogance, impatience, a lack of respect and even violence. Following complications resulting from her surgery, she died two weeks after the altercation.

Suffolk’s commonwealth’s attorney is considering whether to press criminal charges over the homicide. Not only do we think that some such charge would be appropriate, given the facts as they were presented by a city spokesperson, we also wonder why the woman who did the pushing wouldn’t already have been facing a court appearance on charges of assault.

It’s likely there was no murderous intent involved in the situation. However, such a crass overstepping of social mores, of behavioral norms and of common sense should still be punished. There’s a short, slippery slope between allowing this assailant to go unpunished and seeing young thugs taking advantage of the elderly outside of retirement homes and community centers around the city.