Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, August 09, 2013

True Crime

The good people of Boston are experiencing a surfeit of big time crime stories, from the historical -- the Bulger trial and definitive identification of the Boston strangler -- to the immediate -- the Marathon bombing, the murderous Patriots tight end, and now a young woman who came to the city to make her fortune and was brutally murdered by a wacko who had been serially attacking women in South Boston over the recent week. The cops could have brought him in, too, but the detective assigned to the case dropped the ball. (The police commissioner, who says "lawr enfawcement," busted him back to flatfoot.)

Lurid crime stories pretty much dominate my memory of local news in my 25 years living in that town. One of the earliest was a 15 year old kid who murdered a neighbor woman, about his mother's age, for no particular reason. Back in 1989, a young woman was murdered after a birthing class at Brigham and Women's Hospital and her husband told the cops a drug-crazed negro did it. The police jacked up ever young black man in Mission Hill. They even arrested one of them and publicly announced that they had their man. Then it more or less accidentally came out that the husband did it himself. He jumped off the Tobin Bridge.

Then we had John Salvi, who shot up two abortion clinics in Brookline; a guy in the leafy suburb of Newton who murdered his wife and two children in the marital bed and then fled to England (not sure why that one got the OJ treatment from the media, but it did); a couple of young girls who were killed in gang crossfire, a couple of workplace mass murders, the sexually motivated murder of a ten year old boy that led, briefly, to restoration of the death penalty in Massachusetts until the boy's father changed his mind and came out against it (really, that one man's original wishes, followed by his change of heart, was dispositive in swaying the legislature); and of course the pedophile priests. I could go on and on. The point is that my memories of all this are more vivid, and detailed, than my memories of public policy disputes or elections, even though I was a political activist most of the time, and for a while a professional social policy analyst. They are even more vivid and detailed than my memories of my own life (such as it was).

My point is that the narrative of community life stitched together by the news media, and particularly television with its evocative and memorable images, is dominated by crime news. To be sure, although only a small percentage of people are directly affected by serious crime, it's a public responsibility of journalists to document it, and also to make the criminal justice system transparent. But they don't do either very well -- they are not consistent in their decisions about what to make into a big story, they do a terrible job of holding police and prosecutors accountable, and they don't put all this in its proper place or context.

I would prefer to have a somewhat different headful of memories from my years in that town.

No comments: