Monday, May 3, 2010

The Big Story of the Weekend (no, not that one)

This weekend someone packed a bunch of explosive and flammable material into an SUV and parked it in Times Square in New York.  The investigation of this is the number one most popular story on Google News today, and I am not going to blog about it.  President Obama gave the commencement speech at the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor, and I'm not blogging about that either.  Thousands of gallons of oil are threatening the Gulf Coast, and I probably will blog about that tomorrow.  Massachusetts is still without drinking water, and I blogged about that yesterday.  You probably knew about all of these things (perhaps not the U of M story, but you would if you lived here).

Early this morning, Detroit police officers responding to shots fired in a vacant apartment were ambushed.  Four were wounded, one was killed.  Officer Brian Huff became the first line of duty death in the Detroit Police Department since 2004.  The national press barely covered it.  The Ann Arbor press, 40 minutes from Detroit, didn't cover it at all.  Neither did the Michigan-wide public radio affiliate.

Certainly a lot more people are affected by the Massachusetts water situation and the oil spill in the Gulf.  The President speaking in town is pretty rare.  The bomb in Times Square affected a lot of people directly, and scares a lot of people vicariously.  All of these things are important.

In a typical year, there are less than 70 police officers nationwide that are killed by suspects.  Michigan has had two this year, but had none last year.  This isn't terribly common.  It may not affect as many people as some of the other stories, but those it does impact are affected much more severely.  Frequent Quarterbackers may recall that there is a whole Critical Incident Stress Management course just on responding to the 5 most serious types of incidents.  Not only is death in the line of duty one of those, but there is actually an additional course just on that.

So why did Officer Huff's death and his colleagues' shootings get so little attention?  I think there are two reasons.  First, there was a lot of news affecting a lot of people this weekend, which meant that this story had to more actively compete for coverage.  Second, Detroit has a lousy reputation for high crime.  In other words, people think that this sort of thing is about par for the course in Detroit.  This is especially ironic since, although Detroit's crime rate is high, its rate of line of duty deaths for police officers isn't.  By any objective standard, this ought to be a big story.  We just don't make those judgments by objective standards.

There is no community in this country for which a police officer shot in the line of duty feels normal.  The Detroit press is covering this story closely.  It's the rest of us, outside (but not all that far outside) of Detroit that are turning a blind eye.  We think "those people" in "that city" expect this sort of thing.  Unfortunately, we think wrong.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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