Monday, January 4, 2010

Boy, 9, Stabbed in his Uncle's Home, So Why Didn't You Hear About It?

Anthony Maldonado, a 9 year-old from New Jersey, was visiting his uncle in Manhattan over the holidays.  In the wee hours of Saturday morning, he was playing video games with three other people when two of them decided to go get something to eat.  This left Anthony alone with the 25 year-old son of his uncle's partner.  Just after 3:30, he staggered to his uncle's room and collapsed, bleeding from multiple stab wounds.  He died later that morning.

We all have a basic understanding of what we believe to be the threats "out there" to children.  Children are killed in car accidents.  They are killed by predators.  They are killed in the crossfire of disputes between adults.  Once in a great while, they are killed by family members as part of a family annihilation murder.  They are killed in mass shootings. 

We tend to operate under the assumption, however, that children are not murdered by adults who are not predators, are not trying to wipe out the family, and are not shooting at random.  That is, kids aren't targeted for things like drug disputes, love triangles and business deals -- the kinds of situations that get adults killed -- nor are they generally targeted for robberies and muggings.  We know that children die, and that's bad as it is, but we assume that young children don't die because someone, put simply, is gunning for them.  That explains the fact that, in New York City, about two percent of murder victims last year were under 10. (Kudos to the New York Times for reporting this statistic in its coverage today.  Context is important!!)

So what happened to Anthony Maldonado?  It seems that the man he was left alone with suffers from schizophrenia and has a history of violence.  He was released from prison last summer.  As recently as Christmas, he told his mother he wanted to kill someone.  His statement to police about the stabbing was, from published reports, fairly incomprehensible.  He said that Anthony provoked him, but it's not clear how.

There are plenty of people we can point the finger at here, from the justice system to the parole system to his mother to the uncle to Anthony's mother.  None of that will bring this young man back.  No one should be unsafe with family.  It offends our sense of order in the universe.

This story has all the makings of front page news.  You would at least expect to see it picked up as a side story in the national press.  We have a dead child, killed in an incident that is completely out of the ordinary.  It ought to get coverage.  But if you do a Google News search for "Anthony Maldonado" you find lots of stuff in the New York and New Jersey press, and basically nothing anywhere else.  Even in the New York Times, this story ran on page 22 in the local news section.

Why didn't Anthony Maldonado get our attention?  My guess, and that is all that it is, is that there were two factors.  First, Anthony's family is Latino and speaks Spanish.  While that shouldn't matter, you need only look at the coverage of the crime to know that it does -- both the Times and the New York Daily News, for example, felt it was necessary to specifically state that his mother's comments about the crime were made in Spanish.  Second, Anthony died north of 123rd Street in Manhattan, in a housing project.  Somehow, our society believes that deaths in these neighborhoods and projects are less gut-wrenching than the same things happening elsewhere.

I don't know which stories should get our attention or tug at our heartstrings.  I don't make decisions about what page stories run in the paper or how far down they are in the news cast, and I'm glad I don't have to.  I do suspect, however, that if Anthony Maldonado had an Anglo name and was murdered at 86th and Park Avenue, we'd probably have heard a lot more about him.  That's a tragedy all its own.


Colleen said...

Although the *reason* for us not hearing about this is sad....I'm not sure about one it really good for us to hear about every murder that happens? It used to be that we didn't, and people weren't afraid to let their kids play outside. Now we hear about so much, and people are pretty scared.

The numbers I've been shown suggest that it hasn't changed, just our perceptions have.

So I guess I wish more things like this weren't so highly publicized....but not for racial reasons

Naomi Zikmund-Fisher said...

You raise an important point. I tend to argue that the reason things get our attention is because they are unusual and offend our sense of how the world works. I guess what I'm really saying here is that this incident and its coverage tell us something about how we think the world works. We don't think this should happen . . . to white, middle class, English speaking families. That's a shame.

Anonymous said...

It's like missing white woman syndrome.

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