Each year on the second Sunday of May, thousands of Americans honor their mothers in many different ways: breakfast in bed, a town outing, a new necklace, etc. This Mother’s Day, at around 2 p.m., while we here in Philadelphia were enjoying sunshine and sandwiches with our beloved family matriarchs, those in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans were running for their lives and dodging the bullets of three gunmen.
I learned the news around 8 p.m.. I had just gotten off the phone with my own mother, checking in to see how her day was and wishing her “Happy Mother’s Day!” one last time. When I hung up, being the technology-addict I am, I stayed on my phone and browsed the Internet. I opened Reddit and saw the usual: cute cat, atheist joke, sarcasm, sarcasm, headline — “Report: several shot at New Orleans Mother’s Day Parade.” It turns out 19 people were injured, including a 10 year-old child. Three were in critical condition.
I checked Twitter, sure to find more updates: the latest reports, outrage of the state of the world, calls to prayer, doubts of the progress of humanity — all of the things we find after any other tragedy. I quickly found a New York Times headline. That sufficed. I read the six-paragraph Associated Press report and called my mother.
“Oh, no,” she said. She too went to social media to see what all the political and social “experts” had to say. While on the phone together, we each turned on the TV. “Fox isn’t talking about it,” she told me. “Neither are CNN or any local stations,” I said. She told me she couldn’t find a single thing on her Facebook about it. “Maybe it’s still happening and not much media has been able to respond.”
Nope. The attack occurred at 2 p.m., and we were just hearing about it six hours later. I hadn’t received a push notification from CNN or from The New York Times. I couldn’t find a single person talking about it on my Twitter feed. I had quoted the NYT article and added myself, “WTF WORLD.” I even followed up and asked, “Why isn’t everyone freaking out about the 19 people injured by a shooting in New Orleans at a Mother’s Day parade?” Two retweets and a favorite for the former. No acknowledgement of the latter. There were no nationwide trends on the website, and there was no recap the next day on world news.
If you look up related hashtags on Twitter, you will find somewhere around 16 tweets under #NoLaStrong, seven under #NoLaLove, 20 under #PrayForNoLa and 62 under #PrayForNewOrleans.
#PrayForBoston and #BostonStrong were trending within minutes of the Boston Marathon bombing and quickly resurfaced during the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shootings. People are still praying for Sandy Hook Elementary School and announcing it on Twitter. Ariel Castro has been dominating Twitter largely by news outlets.
What makes this shooting of 19 people at a Mother’s Day parade in this major city seemingly less significant than a shooting of children in a school? Or a bombing at a marathon finish line? Or the kidnapping and rape of three women? Of any other act of violence?
Victims of each aforementioned event were human beings. Victims of each were innocent. Victims of each were in public settings. Victims of each included children. Victims of each were defenseless. So why were the victims of New Orleans hardly recognized? Why did they only get a six-paragraph AP write-up in the bottom corner of page A11 of The New York Times? Why did they only get a few tweets here and there and maybe a few hundred article shares on Facebook (I don’t have Facebook, so I don’t actually know)?
Then it hit me. During our initial phone call, my mom had asked where in New Orleans the shooting had taken place, and I hadn’t known. I looked it up: the Seventh Ward.
For those of you who have read even an excerpt of “The Philadelphia Negro” by W.E.B. DuBois, the Seventh Ward probably rings a bell. In 19th-century Philadelphia, the Seventh Ward alone housed more African-Americans than every other neighborhood of the city combined. The area was notoriously poor, and people were forced to live in the most deplorable conditions.
Apparently, the Seventh Ward of New Orleans isn’t much different. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the Seventh Ward has been a historically Creole neighborhood. While it was once prosperous, Interstate 10 now divides the area (much like I-95 divides Chester) and has destroyed any hopes for business development. SpotCrime.com tells us that the most common crimes are assault, burglary, theft and shootings.
In this shooting, three black men attacked a black crowd. It was not an attack by some deranged 20-year-old on suburban white children. It was not an attack by Muslim brothers on affluent, healthy adults. It wasn’t an attack by a man with the same last name as the dictator of Cuba on two white and one Hispanic or Latina women. It was black-on-black, poor-on-poor crime. And it’s being written off as street violence.
Forgive me if I seem insensitive to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary; to the victims of the Boston Bombings; or to Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Knight — I grieve with and for them all. I have sent personal, express prayers to Newtown, Conn.; Boston, Cambridge and Watertown, Mass; and to Cleveland. However, I am apparently one of comparatively few who have also sent prayers to New Orleans.
I understand that certain types of news “sell” better than others, and I understand that this is because it is difficult for the majority of people to relate to living conditions of minority neighborhoods. Refusal to provide full media coverage on these stories is justified by the adage “It happens in these areas all the time.” I get it; I write for news. It’s easier to write about spontaneous, uncommon acts of violence and difficult to write about chronic hunger, malnutrition, illness, petty street fights, unemployment and the like that plague minority neighborhoods.
I also understand that the national news can’t cover every story, but why can’t they cover this one? Regardless of whether or not the shooting resulted in deaths, when bullets have maimed 19 innocent people and put three in critical condition at a seemingly peaceful event — just like any race day or any school day — I want to know about it. I want to know all of the details, and I want to be aware as they are happening. I want people to care and to become emotionally invested in these victims. I think that the only way to effectively prevent violence is to address the causes of violence correctly — and how can we discuss the causes, the effect and the solutions if we don’t know the details?
Had 19 white people in New Orleans been shot on Bourbon Street by the same three black men, three Mexican immigrants or three Muslims, the media would have been in a frenzy with debates about gun control, immigration policy, Islamic terrorism, mental illness and similar topics. Flags would have been at half-mast, relief funds would have been started for victims, tears would have been shed — it would have “sold.”
But instead, the 19 people who were shot at the New Orleans Mothers Day Parade were hardly mentioned, and I find that disgusting. It should be about more than “what sells.” By publishing stories in the newspaper or broadcasting perspectives on air, we are acknowledging a person or group of people and giving them our respect. I can’t even tell you how many times I have wrapped up an interview by saying, “Again, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me,” and been cut off with, “No, no, no — thank you for writing the story. We really appreciate it. It’s great to get the word out.”
Media recognition of these events is a way to say, “We see you and we feel for you. We offer you our condolences, thoughts and prayers. We care.” It is sure to bring about discussion of ways to make sure “this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” and this brings closure or hope thereof.
This message of compassion and promise for resolve was received by the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Boston bombing and the Cleveland kidnappings — and deservingly so. I have been so moved by the compassion I witnessed as people wore green and white to honor the children of Sandy Hook; played “Sweet Caroline” and ran with “Boston Strong” banners during the Broad Street Run; and placed flowers, photos and banners outside of family homes to welcome the three women who were held captive for 10 years by Ariel Castro. These acts of sympathy, empathy and kindness bring tears to my eyes. I become absolutely overwhelmed when I see strangers come together to support those less fortunate. That being said, I am furious and sickened that the victims of the New Orleans Mothers Day Parade shooting and less popular tragedies of which I am not aware have not received the same message, because they deserve it. They deserve support, respect and benevolence.
So, Seventh Ward of New Orleans, here I am. I see you and I feel for you. I offer you my condolences, thoughts and prayers. I care. I wish you the best as you begin this healing process, and I have faith that you will rebound. Stay #NoLaSTRONG.
Devon Harman is a political science major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]