Talking About Death - Or Not
In colder, snowier states like Minnesota. We have types of fatalities that are lesss common in other places. I didn't realize this until I moved up here, but each year we have the following kinds of deaths that are, to say the least, less common in my native Kansas:
First person to fall through thin ice of the year.
First snowmobiler to fall through thin ice of the year.
First snowmobiler to sink while trying to skim over water (or whatever it's called)
First snowmobiler to hit a barbed wire fence at high speed.
First snowmobile DUI or OWI fatality.
First boater to get a little intoxicated and hit a bridge at high speed.
These deaths are always news. But not all deaths are. I know of two, but before I tell you about them, I want to give a little context in two parts:
Context of the First Part
One Saturday of the NCAA tournament, I was at my friend Rick's house watching hoops. Rick lives near the Mississippi River. He told me that he was looking forward to reading the paper the next day because there was a big flap up at the river earlier that day.
He said the bridge was closed and squad cars were all over the place. He added they were clearly searching for a body in the river.
The next day I searched the paper too, but found nothing.
Context of the Second Part
Back in the go-go 80's when I lived in Sin City, more commonly known as Washington, D.C., I had the great good fortune to see the inner workings of the city's wonderful and well-run Metro train system. Someone in our group asked the Manager of the Metro system if there were ever suicides by Metro. He replied that there were, gave a startlingly high number of them (which I absolutely cannot remember), and then added that they are not reported in the news for fear that reporting them would encourage more of the same/lead to increases.
End of Contexts
On March 29th, a few days after I watched games with my friend Rick, the following letter to the editor appeared in our only local paper*, The Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Last month, a homeless Native American woman named Arlene Beauleau died of exposure behind a Target store in Minneapolis.
Last Saturday evening, her young homeless son, Bobby, committed suicide by jumping into the Mississippi River at Interstate Hwy. 94.
His last words to three friends who watched in horror were, "I'm going to be with my mom."
Neither death was mentioned in any local media.
Police immediately dragged the river and recovered Bobby's body. He is being taken to Red Lake this week.
I find it interesting to observe for which individuals in our community a public death constitutes news.
M. Nilsson, Minneapolis
As long-time readers will recall, a homeless woman, an alum of the University of Kansas, died of exposure in a Minnesota parking lot last winter. I heard about it on NPR while driving home. I fear that a lot of homeless persons die in Minnesota each winter (and probably a number of folks who cannot heat their homes adequately). I try to consider news-worthiness in light of all the detached factors that newspapers must apply, but something seems wrong with a standard that fails to mention the death from exposure of a woman who was identifiable and who left, even if only briefly, a surviving son and family.
Because of my trip to the nucleus of the D.C. Metro, I can understand the policy behind not making news of the son's suicide (although every school shooting get its press), but the basis for it, the dramatic fashion in which he departed, and the newsworthiness of the two tragedies merited mention.
Especially in Minnesota lately. I'll explain in my next two posts.
*We have two papers, but ILIM only officially recognizes the one that didn't endorse President Bush twice.