When I was changing planes in Philly I got two pieces of bad news from New Orleans, the second of which was so harrowing it made the first seem trivial.
First, I learned the Saints suffered their first defeat of the season, in overtime, no less; to the Atlanta Falcons, no less; at the Superdome, no less.
Next, I learned a that a young boy had caught a bullet and had been rushed to the hospital. When I landed in New Orleans I read the news that he had died. His name was Jeremy Galmon. He was two years old.
That certainly does put things in painful perspective, like Cliff says. It’s hard to get too worked up about a football game when you’re confronted with such an atrocity.
And yet when I picked up the paper Monday morning, what did I see? Yes, the story of Jeremy’s death made a front page headline. So did the football game. But the football headline was two or three times as big. I felt a painful dissonance, looking at that front page.
In the days that have followed, we’ve had more coverage of the story of Jeremy’s murder, the grief of his family, the circumstances of his death, the response by authorities, the arrest of one suspect, the hunt for another. We’ve also had plenty of continuing coverage of how the Saints are responding to their loss, bringing in other kickers, and so forth. I haven’t done a serious analysis, but it’s clear that more ink has been spilled on the latter story over the last four days.
I’m sure the folks at the TP would say that they are giving the people what they want. I buy that, but only to a certain extent. Does our media reflect our culture or create it? I believe it does both. It may be true that, as a society, we are more concerned with professional sports than the murder of a child. But this is a time for our media to exercise some leadership. This is a time to provide some in-depth reportage on the underlying causes of violence. Look at the amount of analysis that fills out the Sports section every day. If we had half that much analysis of social problems we’d surely make some progress.
The tragic death of Jeremy Galmon is a story that people will respond to. Such tragedies are also learning opportunities, and we desperately need to learn some lessons. Across the political spectrum, people understand that violence is a problem. We also need to share an understanding of the root causes of this endemic social problem, if we are to come to consensus on solutions.
I’ve been beating up on the media here, but I want to be clear that the real villain in this story is whoever pulled the trigger. Yet the media do have a role to play, and it is a vital one. They need to engage the issues when the public is engaged, and this story is an example.
And why does Jeremy’s story move us so? Every loss of life is regrettable, regardless of age. If a victim is 20 or 200, it’s still tragic. But there’s something especially wrenching when a toddler is a victim of violence. Few of us are completely innocent; we’re all caught up in a web of social complicity to some degree; we all bear some guilt for what we’ve allowed our culture to become. The main exception to this is children. They are truly and unquestionably innocent. (And please don’t talk to me about “original sin.”) I know very little really, about Jeremy, but I can guarantee you this: He never hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve this.