She wants to be a cosmetologist and “do hair”. That’s Vanessa Coleman’s career goal. Channon Christian and Chris Newsome had career goals as well. They had career goals the night they were kidnapped at gunpoint by Coleman’s friends. They had career goals as they were tortured, raped, abused beyond all human imagination, and murdered. Channon was a Sociology major at the University of Tennessee. Chris was a carpenter. They will never fulfill those dreams. Instead they leave behind families who struggle to live with the knowledge their babies died horrible deaths. In a journal entry shortly after the crime Coleman wrote, “I’ve had one helluva adventure since I’ve been in the big TN.”
There have been questions about whether or not these were hate crimes or crimes of opportunity. The four men who along with Coleman have been convicted of the crimes are African American. Channon and Chris were white. “If this had been white on black crime, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and their ilk would have descended on Knoxville like a swarm of angry bees,” said musician Charlie Daniels on his webpage in 2007. Sadly this is probably true. But instead of criticizing Sharpton and Jackson shouldn’t we be wondering why no white activists stepped up to speak out for Channon and Chris? Chris’s mother, Mary Newsome, said, “It may have started out as a carjacking, but what it developed into was blacks hating whites. To do the things they did, they would have to hate them to do that.”
Knoxville, Tennessee does deserve credit for standing up against white supremacists that rallied outside the Old Courthouse protesting against Coleman’s possible parole. A local attorney, Chris Irwin, said, “We want to send a clear message to our town that these people are not acceptable, they never were, they never will be.” Even if the murders were a hate crime, Knoxville does not judge all African-Americans by the psychopathic behavior of the monsters who committed these heinous acts. The irony here is that the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 in Tennessee.
In the end it doesn’t really matter if this was a black on white crime, a random act of violence, or a crime of opportunity. In the end two beautiful young people with their lives ahead of them, with futures that may have contained careers, marriages, and children have been buried for almost eight years. The hopes and dreams of their parents, their families, and their friends have been buried as well. The Newsome’s and the Christian’s sat in court today and spoke to the parole board. Undoubtedly they spoke of their children. Once again they had to see the photos of the atrocities performed on their children. Once again they had to face the horror of knowing there was nothing they could do to change that dreadful day.
Vanessa Coleman will not be eligible for parole until 2020, six years from now. That is the longest period she can be made to wait. With any luck she will be denied again. Another entry in Coleman’s journal after the killings said, “How interesting is your life? I bet it won’t compare to mine cuz I love my life.” You have to wonder how much she loves her life now. Of course whatever the quality, she is alive, unlike Channon and Chris. Even if she serves every minute of her thirty-five year sentence, she is alive.