April 18, 2013

GERSON: If It Bleeds, It Leads

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One day after the tragic explosions that interrupted the Boston Marathon, The New York Times ran a front page story entitled “Blasts at Boston Marathon Kill 3 and Injure 100.” Of course, I learned about this tragedy much sooner from the numerous iPhone notifications, the general buzz on campus and the abundance of Facebook posts filling my news feed.

Students, faculty and staff alike have all been mourning with family and friends affected by this unfortunate event. However, I simply wasn’t taken over by a similar overwhelming sense of loss. Fortunately, I was not personally affected by this tragedy. I had no family or friends in Boston. I didn’t identify with the nationalistic sense of invasion, and I struggled to feel the same emotions many around me seemed to be expressing. I felt confused.

I couldn’t help but think of every other tragic story happening in the United States, and even abroad, that goes untold. What about the explosions at the Boston Marathon made every news outlet around the world run it on their front page? From BBC to al Jazeera, and even Spain’s national newspaper El País, this story made the front page. Perhaps the international appeal of the marathon and the myth of American domestic security made this story that much more exceptional. I don’t know exactly, but I know I couldn’t help but think of all the other tragedies we don’t seem to talk about.

Let me clarify: I am not downplaying the tragedy of this event, nor am I trying to delegitimize the mourning of all those who have been affected. These are simply my personal struggles.

As I scanned the rest of the front page on Tuesday, I came across another headline, which read “For 3 Years After Killing, Suspect Sits in Jail.” This particular story outlined the ruined life of a young man suspected of murder who has waited in jail for more than three years for a trial that never seems to come. His life is forever changed, his mental condition is immeasurably scarred and perhaps unsurprisingly, he is black.

I wonder how many stories of pending court cases like this are left unreported to the American public. The right to a speedy trial has become an illusion for many who lack the resources to hire a lawyer or post bail. I thought of all of the stories that detail the particular flaws in our criminal justice system, and how the American public simply is not talking about the forms of racial control manifested in the current reality of mass incarceration. Racial undercaste doesn’t ring like the word “terror.”

This journalistic creed comes to mind: “If it bleeds, it leads.” What makes a story more “ingestible” than another? Why do the everyday tragedies of growing structural inequality within America not cause us all to mourn like the attack on the Boston Marathon has? I am fascinated by what makes the front pages of our newspapers and what does not, defining the very content of our daily conversations.

In a globalized world, when nearly every catastrophe on earth can be seen with a click of a button, where do we draw the line about what we consider our problems and what we consider out of our hands? We now look back to the Holocaust as a tragedy of intervention. If American forces only intervened sooner, many lives could and should have been saved. But what about the millions dead in North Korea? Or the 70,000 and growing in Syria? Upwards of 20 improvised explosive devices go off in Afghanistan per day, and we don’t even blink an eye (Thanks, Professor Patel). Is it our varied expectations for security around the world?

We expect our domestic security to remain perfectly intact when our country is heavily involved in countless wars and conflicts abroad.

Terrorism has become our nation’s call to action. Congress rushes through bills that deal with national security against terrorist threats, but can’t seem to pass reasonable gun control laws or judicial reform. The rule of law is put on hold for extrajudicial actions taken to “fight” the War on Terror, but what about the war on minorities, on gays? What about the struggles and domination occuring between American citizens everyday?

In mourning the lives taken and the innocence lost from the tragedy in Boston, I think of the tragedies of those who aren’t given a voice here in our backyard and around the world. It’s difficult to mourn for some when so many are ignored.

Rudy Gerson is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached a rgerson@cornellsun.com. Rooting Around column runs alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Rudy Gerson