Perception and reality

Two very bad things happened in the United States this week. Well, two things that caught the attention of the media. On Monday, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I was very upset by that because it was a deliberate terrorist attack on very innocent people. The many times that my wife has come to meet me at the finish line of the races I run made me really empathize with the victims. It was horrible, and I felt horrible. The death toll has been confirmed at three with several dozen injured, and a few of those still in critical condition.

On Wednesday night, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, went up in flames. One of the anhydrous ammonia tanks caught fire as well, leading to an explosion that, at last count, has killed as many as 15 people with about 160 hospitalized. Major parts of the town were leveled by the explosion, including many of the homes, a nursing home, and a middle school close to the plant. It was horrific.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 16,000 homicides in the US each year. That works out to about 43 homicides per day. All things being equal, there have been over 160 homicides in the United States since Monday.

Yet the news has been nothing but Boston. Why?

The jury is still out as to why we pay so much attention to one thing over another. If, God forbid, there was a single event that killed 160 people, then that would probably be the top news… Unless it was in a theater of war and/or in an event in a far away land. Let’s face it, we’re very Ameri-centric in America. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I believe that we are very focused on the events in Boston because the marathon was supposed to be a very family-friendly and safe event. We go to those events all the time. So, when something horrible like that happens, we all look at all the safe events to come and realize that we’re not 100% safe. Likewise, living that close to a fertilizer plant and having it go up doesn’t threaten all of us in the country. We don’t all live close to such a facility. Basically, if all of us are suddenly in danger, we all go crazy.

Interestingly enough, the Joker put it better in “The Dark Knight”:

httpvh://youtu.be/G0AXgaFqEas

It’s eerily true, actually. “Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos,” the Joker said.

Also, the villains in the bombing seem to be two immigrant brothers who, after being on the run from the law, went down fighting the law. Of course, the law won. One is dead and the other has been arrested. The villain in West, Texas, was an accident. The villains in “everyday homicides” are not people we usually relate with, and, sadly, many times their victims are the same. They’re nameless, faceless strangers that we never heard of and probably never will. They’re not likely to be people, like you and I, who go to a sporting event to have some fun and cheer on the human spirit to endure and win.

This is yet another one of those things about my upcoming adventure in public health that I’m going to have to deal with. A child dead from measles will likely not make national news. It may make a local evening news segment, but it certainly won’t be on Anderson Cooper’s notes. Unless… Unless the victim and the crime puts us all at risk and seems to be completely out of our control. Measles, after all, is vaccine preventable.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen