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May 21, 2013

Talk about a tragedy

Lack of media coverage for Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans reveals our failure to connect across socioeconomic boundaries.

Past week. Top searches. Ready?

Besides the perennial Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Gmail queries, there were the “rising” trends, led by Atari Breakout, Cristin Milioti, Angelina Jolie, Happy Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day Quotes, and Daft Punk.

Notice anything missing? Hint: It happened on Mother’s Day and it wasn’t you forgetting to buy a gift.

That’s right: The mass shooting in New Orleans that left nearly two dozen people injured.

“Ten men, seven women, [and] a boy and a girl—both 10 years old—were struck by the hail of gunfire,” New Orleans’s own Times-Picayune reported last week. “Three people remained hospitalized in stable to critical condition on Wednesday.”

Even though the suspected shooters were still at large until as recently as the morning of Thursday, May 16, they were by no stretch of the imagination pursued with the same sense of national urgency that characterized the manhunts for former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner in February or the Tsarnaev brothers last month.

Now, why is that? Why is this tragedy not receiving the same sort of intense media attention as did Newtown, Boston, or Aurora? Why aren’t we calling for its suspects to be tried as domestic terrorists, inviting the President to interfaith prayer sessions for the victims, or sending the affected families donations?

In case you didn’t know, Newtown boasts a median household income of $116,249—more than twice the country’s $50,054, nearly three times New Orleans’s $44,004, and more than four times the $27,431 of New Orleans’s 7th Ward, where the Mother’s Day shooting took place.

This isn’t to say that Newtown, Boston, or Aurora didn’t need our support. They did, and they got it. But it’s clear that the victims in New Orleans are, at least individually, in far greater need of financial support to cover the inevitable influx of hospital expenses and unpredictable physical and mental implications that define the aftermath of any tragedy. Where is their prominent place in the news cycle and the relief fund it fills?

In other words, what makes this tragedy less “tragic” than others, at least in the eyes of our national press-fueled psyche?

Is it because no one died? Because it happened on Mother’s Day?

Maybe. But probably not.

More than anything, I think it’s the absence of the human element—the sense of “it could happen to me” or “it could happen to my friends, or my loved ones”—that so crucially separates this tragedy (and innumerable other underreported and forgotten ones like it) from the Newtowns and Bostons of our lives.

Despite happening at the relatable and supposedly safe family event that is a Mother’s Day Parade, and inflicting no shortage of physical and mental scars on young and innocent lives, the New Orleans shooting didn’t happen in an upper/middle-class, minimal-minority, bad-things-don’t-happen-here kind of neighborhood. It didn’t happen “where you’d least expect it,” but precisely where one might “expect it”—in New Orleans, a city with some of the nation’s highest rates of crime, violence, and gang participation.

Last week’s mass shooting didn’t push the boundary we’ve delineated in our collective, media-grounded distinctions between “safe” and “unsafe” locales in the way that the tragedies in Newtown or Boston did. Instead, it simply reaffirmed our stereotypes: that New Orleans is a bad place, and that bad things happen in bad places.

We regard the day-to-day experiences of people in such areas as being so vastly different from our own that we, as a society, have disassociated ourselves from them. Our inability to relate to or even sympathize with their lives and struggles often plays out as a greater aversion to reporting on victims’ personal stories altogether. No personal story has received mass attention in the aftermath of the New Orleans shooting.

This isn’t the first time that our nation has left New Orleans high and dry. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the media was far more concerned with circulating images of New Orleans residents “robbing” local grocery stores and pharmacies than it was with reporting the acuteness of the situation, which, thanks to FEMA’s mismanagement of the tragedy on almost every front, left the city’s tens of thousands of stranded residents with few options but to rob local vendors in order to survive.

Detroit’s well-documented decline provides another powerful example of this unfortunate phenomenon. Of the myriad photo galleries that depict and track the ways in which the city has changed, very few contain photographs featuring actual people, instead opting to fixate on the city’s abandoned infrastructure. By claiming to showcase Detroit, such articles soothe our periodically resurfacing concern for the declining locale by implying that it has simply been abandoned—that these are simply photos of a mysterious, bygone past from which human life has long since fled, and which we need not worry about.

Except, of course, for the fact that 706,585 people still live in Detroit. But being reminded of that would make us uncomfortable, just as it would make us uncomfortable to be reminded that 4,267 people have died from gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting, including 73 people in New Orleans and 126 in our very own Chicago (and our population is about seven and a half times the size of New Orleans’s).

It all points to a much broader, much more encompassing threat to our country’s shared sense of self. The results are heightened social and economic inequalities, and communities divided on such strong geographic, economic, infrastructural, and psychological lines by income-based distinctions that they have become completely unable to relate to one another. At this rate, they may one day be unable even to recognize the others’ presence.

Anastasia Golovashkina is a second-year in the College majoring in economics.

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