|The street where the Invisible Visible Man - then the Invisible|
Visible Boy - was hit by a car 34 years ago. Adults sucked their
teeth at his negligence. But the streetscape changes hint
at the wider cause. (c) Google Streetview
My mind’s returned to that childhood experience this week as I’ve been pondering how ordinary people, the police and news reporters respond to road crashes far more serious than mine. Many of these events, it seems to me, are filed just as quickly as my crash was into convenient, easy-to-understand categories. Police officers, I suspect, start off with a similar paradigm to the one I faced 34 years ago – that pedestrians’ and cyclists’ mistakes, not cautious, respectable motorists, tend to cause crashes. Reporters overseen by under-pressure news editors all too easily fit events for their readers into even simpler, more misleading constructs.
|It's a long shot - but this NYPD driver|
may not spend a lot of time questioning
the paradigms behind his thinking
about street safety.
|The foot of the Manhattan Bridge bike lane, near where|
Matthew Brenner was hit: a confusing place, but not one
where people deliberately take suicidal risks.
|An F150 at the Detroit auto show: imagine a raised chassis|
and tinted windows - and ask yourself if you'd assume such
a vehicle's design played no role in a fatal crash.
That tendency to pick conveniently on the dead to simplify the consequences of their deaths for those still alive is, incidentally, one of the coldest, most cynical parts of the whole process.
Such paradigms don't die easily, however. The paradigms in news editors’ heads were some of the last holdouts of last century’s outmoded ideas on sexual identify, domestic violence and a host of other issues. The paradigms about how to write about race, crime, immigration and a swathe of other issues continue to distort reporting. It is hardly surprising that few reporters currently care enough or are well-informed enough to counter their editors’ entrenched views of “common sense” views of traffic issues.
The paradigms in police officers' heads, meanwhile, can literally kill people. It's hard to imagine that, if Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, hadn't had fixed views about the behaviour of his town's black people, he wouldn't have felt it necessary to kill unarmed Michael Brown in August. It's hard to imagine that police views about the likely behaviour of people in Brooklyn's Pink Houses didn't contribute to a police officer's shooting of Akai Gurley, an entirely innocent young man, last week in East New York.
|54th St & 8th Avenue, Midtown Manhattan:|
it's a chaotic environment - yet I never doubted
when I rode it daily I'd get no sympathy from
the police if a driver ran into me