Pedestrian Injuries/Deaths: We Tend to Forget They Are Human

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“Witnesses report brain matter in the roadway.” It’s the absolute very first thing I heard just the other night having renewed my unfortunate recent habit of listening to theBernalillo County Public Safety scanner. In respect for the dead, I’ll spare more detail than that, as the ‘brain matter’ had to do with yet another pedestrian killed recently in Albuquerque.

After a lull in pedestrian-involved fatalities on NN roadways in August, late September and early October has picked up again at the previous record pace for 2016. A probably incomplete listing of recent incidents include:

It is notable that only the “former officer” story above has any depth of reportage included. Almost all the “stories” regarding pedestrian-related injuries and death read like the totality of Maggie Shepard’s Albuquerque Journal “report” of the two deaths this past Saturday Night:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two pedestrians were killed this weekend, and police say pedestrian error is to blame.

One person was killed before 11 p.m. Saturday near Wyoming and Constitution, Albuquerque police officer Simon Drobik said.

About an hour later, a pedestrian near 300 Coors Northwest was struck and killed.

The names of the pedestrians had not been released as of Sunday night, but Drobik said they will be once relatives have been notified.

Having tracked these “stories” the past year or so, I have found the very strong tendency is for all such reportage to stop at the above. Nothing more is ever known and certainly nothing more is ever considered by news organizations regarding the recent record number of pedestrian incidents or the long-term problems of those choosing to walk anywhere close to our streets.

I had planned to write a few thousand words on this subject this week, but fortunately for myself and DCF readers, Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog USA beat me to it yesterday with a fabulous essay on “The 4 Biggest Sins by Reporters Covering Pedestrian Deaths.”

Local reporters, and the law enforcement agencies with which they work, would do well to read Ms. Schmitt’s essay closely, for they both regularly commit the “sins” she outlines. You really must read the essay in toto, but the sins are:

  1. Blaming the Victim
  2. Failure to Consider Street Conditions
  3. Talking About Cars, Not Drivers: and,
  4. Calling Pedestrian Fatalities “Accidents,” Not Crashes

Of the four, Albuquerque and media pretty much everywhere fall most prone to blaming the victim, which begets the other sins. News organizations blame the pedestrian victim, after being told by law enforcement, and then they just stop reporting or writing or anything. They just write the 68 or so words found in the quoted “story” above (and remember, it’s “reporting” not one, but two deaths) and the “story” is supposedly “over.”

Meanwhile, “witnesses report brain matter in the roadway.” These are human beings we’re reporting and talking about here, folks.  Their lives are just as important as me, the reporter, the law enforcement PIO, you and everybody else. But, by through whatever circumstances necessitates them walking in and along our streets, these humans with “brain matter” become just about 100% meaningless. Most just become irritations to “us” as “we” drive around “them”; a few get taken out. No big deal. And certainly not “our” fault. Because it was “their” fault (cue theatrical cleaning of hands).

And news organizations only reinforce that view. Every once in a while, there’s a story beyond the nameless, and often blamed, victim, such as the former APD officer killing a woman in a wheelchair. But if the guy wasn’t a former APD officer, would that story have been longer than 68 words? No.

The extreme dehumanization only reinforced by news organizations and law enforcement in pedestrian injuries/deaths can easily be found. Look, for example, at the comments to a very good and thorough story by KRQE’s Chris McKee on the City of Albuquerque’s study and work toward making the intersection of Central and San Mateo safer.

McKee does a great job of distilling a complex study and situation. The City is doing very honorable work in trying to address the very big problems there. But look at the comments. I know, smart folks are always telling me to “never look at the comments.” But never looking at the comments means ignoring the underlying hatred.

I’d argue that never looking at the comments means never understanding the appeal of Donald Trump. Here, I’d argue that never looking at the comments means missing the implications of our institutionalized dehumanization of dead pedestrians. And homeless people. And all the rest of “them,” that has helped lead to the sorry state of nativist/racist/”us v. them” affairs we continue to be mired in.

Aren’t we better than that? All of us? Or at least those of us who report and reveal what’s really going on in our world? We owe it to these people as fellow humans. And we owe it to society to really look toward what will fix these problems, instead of so simply washing our hands of them.

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