Just after midnight last Friday, April 22, 2016, and a scant 4 or 5 miles from where I am sitting, 19-year-old Jason Cisneros stopped by his best friend Ivania’s apartment to see her. When he arrived, he heard a commotion near where he parked.
He sent a text to Ivania inside, saying, “’I’m outside. There’s a lady honking, and this guy wants to hit her. He wants to kill her.”
Jason then approached the woman’s car to intervene. Just a moment later, he lay dying on the street, with two gunshot wounds.
The news coverage on this, what little it will get, will paint a simple picture. A brave young man heard a woman in distress — a woman he did not even know — and lost his life trying to protect her.
Of course, the real story is not nearly so simple. What made this young man walk into the line of fire? Was it heroics? Why didn’t he just call the police? Why did he feel the pull toward intervening in the troubles of a female stranger?
Why have men like this, rushing in and dying to protect women they don’t even know, become their own crime statistic?
This is a sad event that illustrates so much of what is wrong with men’s story in the modern age.
With the narrative about men’s place in the world casting them in the role of a protective vassal, we have developed the expectation that this is what men ought to be.
Undoubtedly the news coverage will play this out as a senseless tragedy. Accordingly, most will eventually take refuge in the fanciful idea that Jason Cisneros died a hero.
The members of society, by and large, who read this story and watch the news video, will end up on a similar trajectory, toward glorifying the self-sacrifice.
They will not conclude that this was a young man who was set up, duped into putting his neck on the chopping block by a history and force he never had a chance to grow up to understand.
His parents will take solace in the idea that their son died doing something noble. His friend will apply a similar salve to her grief. Few, if any, will question the wisdom of his choice or the factors that drove him to make it.
Fewer still will wonder about the character of the woman he was trying to save, even though it was evident that she was in a relationship with a murderous thug, that her chickens had come home to roost that night, and that she wanted someone to rescue her at any cost.
Jason Cisneros died trying to protect a woman he did not know, who it turns out may have been no more worthy of protection than the man who killed him.
Our society will interpret his death as heroics, and thus teach more young men that this insanity is the model of manhood they should emulate.
We will deny our young men the truth. Jason’s impulse to rescue the damsel in distress is a dysfunctional mandate passed down from generation to generation living by a narrative that sees his life as easily disposable.
Was Jason a good man? Most probably he was, though I am loathe to use that term lightly anymore. There is too much pointless sacrifice that comes with it.
The small amount of information that I have indicates that he came from a loving, supportive and close-knit family. And he was, after all, doing what he believed to be the right thing.
I can’t even imagine the sense of loss his family feels right now. Parents burying a child instead of the reverse is a hugely painful deviation from the natural order.
But for the sake of preventing more funerals, it is important to push aside the misguided chivalry and false heroism of this event and recognize that Jason’s death is one of countless, pointless sacrifices that never should have happened.
There is nothing to glorify here. Not the death of a beloved son. Not the ill-fated choices of young women who are sexually excited by criminality and violence.
And not the false code of male honor inflicted on young men from the shadows of a warped social consciousness.
There is a lesson here for parents and for anyone else who has a young man in their lives whom they love.
Please ask yourself, if your son or other loved one encountered the same situation as Jason, what would they do? Would they intervene? If they did, is that what you would want them to do?
Would it make you proud? If it would, are you willing to bury them for the sake of that pride?
If you would not want your son to die like Jason Cisneros died, have you told him? Have you made it clear to him that dying for a stranger is not your idea of manhood?
Have the lessons from your family been about protecting his loved ones, protecting himself, or about protecting anyone at his own expense?
You know, this stuff matters. Today’s young men get copious amounts of messaging about manhood, most of it instructing them to accept their disposability by calling it a badge of honor.
Young men face a barrage of social messages to “man up” and be a “real man” and other shaming, exploitive instructions.
It even comes from the government. We see it in the “It’s On Us” anti-sexual assault campaign, which includes President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, along with stars like Common, Mike Roe, and others, telling young men that it is on them to intervene.
Just like Jason Cisneros did.
Please watch the “It’s On Us” video and think about the price Jason paid for making sure it was on him.
Doing that might make you stop to consider if you want to manipulate your son or another beloved man into playing unarmed and unpaid bodyguard, ever at the disposal of strangers.
And while you’re at it, you might ask yourself something else. Do you have any reason to think Common would risk his life for a stranger?
Do you think Joe Biden cares about your son — or the women’s vote?
When I look at what Jason’s story turned into, all I see is a devastated family, a grieving friend, and a decent young man with a life cut short on behalf of someone who in no way warranted that kind of sacrifice – not that any stranger ever does.
Perhaps there is a better social message we can send all people, young and old. It’s on you.
It’s on you to forge the ability to protect yourself. It’s on you to make sound decisions about people with whom you choose to get involved.
It is not the responsibility of strangers, and it is not a burden for another class of human beings to bear.
No one outside you, your family and the police have any obligation to take risks for your safety. If women don’t know this, the parents of young men certainly should.
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