“Je suis français” and everything that comes with that

Like so many people out there, I am horrified at the events that transpired on November 13 in Paris. Only people who are completely devoid of any kind of feeling would not feel something. I was listening to the Germany-France soccer game on the radio when the bombs went off and news of the attacks started coming through. It really, really hurt.

In all of this, I have come to think about the very interesting reaction to the attacks. Before I dive into those observations, I need to make it absolutely clear that my thoughts and prayers are with the people of France at these moments when they are under attack. I wish that they find peace and justice from all this.

That said, I want to point out some interesting things from recent human history.

In 2014, 43 students in Mexico disappeared after being taken by police (or military, or paramilitary) forces. There are very strong indicators that they are now dead, and that local and state (and even federal) authorities had a hand in their death. While there were many marches in Mexico — and a few in other countries like the United States — hardly anyone else noticed. There was no continuing coverage or “breaking news” on television. CNN was not interviewing everyone and anyone in Mexico about what happened. No world leaders gathered to demand a thorough investigation.

Posters were made, though. So that's nice.
Posters were made, though. So that’s nice.

In fact, since the latest drug war erupted in Mexico in the Calderón Administration, tens of thousands of people have died and many have gone missing. That’s just south of the border from the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. The best estimates put the number of dead at over 164,000… More than the number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same time period. Again, no one really bats an eye about this.

And that’s just Mexico. People are getting killed in other military conflicts in other parts of the world as well. Allies of the United States have had tens of thousands of people die. But we seem to be okay with that collectively because it’s war, and war comes at a price. The people in Paris last night were not soldiers, so let’s talk about the non-soldiers.

As I’ve been covering in my writings and on social media, Baltimore has a murder rate that is the highest since the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1990s. As I’m writing this, the number of people killed by violence in Baltimore in 2015 is at 299. That’s 299 dead in 318 days for a per day rate of 0.94 murders, putting Baltimore on pace for 343 murders for 2015 and second only to the 353 murders in 1993. But that’s not breaking news. I assure you that once the city hits 300 tonight, probably during the Democratic Presidential Debate, no one will ask former Governor Martin O’Malley what he would do to stop the violence in Baltimore and in other cities in the United States.

The Joker was right:

When things are “part of the plan,” we don’t panic. We kind of just shrug our shoulders and go on with life. We might shake our heads a little bit, or some of us may go protest for a couple of days. For the most part, however, we move on with our lives. Ah, but if you have the same number of deaths in a year and compress them into a day or two, then everyone loses their mind. Then they build memorials. Then world leaders make statements.

I guess it’s human nature to react strongly against a lot of deaths in a short amount of time and to get used to — or even comfortable with — the same number of deaths over a very long time. Or, if those deaths happen in some other place to people who are not like us, then that’s their problem and why should I give up something, or someone, for it? “Let them deal with it,” some say. “Those poor people,” say the others. And only a few will try to do something about it.

Yeah, I feel a little guilty writing this. I feel like I’m minimizing the deaths of people who had done absolutely nothing wrong and lived in a country that is relatively stable. You expect people to die in war zones, inner cities, collapsed states. You certainly don’t expect it in Paris. And, if Parisians are not safe, how can we be safe anywhere? I think that right there is why we’re so fascinated with what has happened.

I'm a 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

5 thoughts on ““Je suis français” and everything that comes with that

  1. I think you hinted at this with “people not like us” but there is very likely a race component. I don’t think Paris gets focus so much because it’s viewed as safe and attacks there undermine our own sense of security as its population is predominantly white and seeing white people killed is what affects our sense of security.

    Unfortunately, it seems to be common, if unstated, knowledge that the media gives significantly more focus when there are white victims. Part of the reason why you never hear about the goings on in Mexico is due to an anti-Mexican sentiment, largely perpetuated by conservatives.

    And in a similar way, I think there is a narrative being perpetuated about black on black violence that disassociates the white majority from it and undercuts the effectiveness of campaigns like Black Lives Matter. The thinking goes, “why should we try to help them, look what they are doing to themselves”.

    Same with violence in the Middle East or parts of Africa. There’s very much an us vs. them or at least us seperately from them mentality. Because “us” seems to refer more to whites than to Americans my guess is that this, at least in part, stems from pro-American nationalism being conflated with pro-white ethnocentrism.

    We are also experiencing a higher homicide rate over here in Chicago, though not as bad as Baltimore. Last week a 9 year boy was executed over his father’s gang involvement. By and large the narrative has largely been what I described above. It’s an inner city problem, it’s a problem for the black community to resolve, the father is to blame for his gang involvement, etc.

    More than once I’ve had people point to this as why Black Lives Matter doesn’t matter. “Look at how few cops shoot black people compared to what they do to themselves.” I want to just say “go f*ck yourself” but instead my response is usually along the lines of “just because gangs kill unarmed children doesn’t mean it’s ok for police too”.

    We don’t have to solve one problem at a time and the black community doesn’t need to end black on black crime before they deserve our help. In fact the inistitutionalized discrimination that normalizes the murder of unarmed black men by police probably is closely related to inner city violence. Not to bash on Republicans (well maybe a bit) but more often than not when that point is lost on someone they are probably right leanijg (in my experience at least).

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    • The simple reality is, to white America, brown skinned people’s lives don’t matter a whit.
      Hence, ignored by most are the horrors going on with the drug wars in Mexico, ignored is the Syrian civil war, ignored are the black men and women killed by police or killing each other on our city streets.
      For most of white America, only white lives matter, to hell with the words and intent of our Constitution.
      That’s one thing I hate about my homeland, the inequity inherent in our society, where any attempt to mitigate is violently resisted.

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  2. I have been following the coverage of the missing students for a while. It does get coverage here, but then again… we are on the west coast and our agriculture is pretty much dependent on folks who are Mexican immigrants.

    One big change that made the news: the city my father grew up in elected its first Hispanics to the city council. It is a big thing since the families that were originally from Mexico are now actually owners, managers, etc of the farms and orchards that make the area’s economy. It took a legal ruling to make the voting of the council more fair.

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    • Well, the news was also broadcast in Pennsylvania, but it got nowhere near the coverage it should have gotten.

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