The Urban Tragedy Show

It happens. It gets front page attention. It happens again. Again the front page tells of tragedy. Death. By gun. By fire. The TV people are there with the cameras. The scene is predictable. Neighbors reveal their remorse. Their pain is palpable. It’s painful to watch. Then it happens again. The ritual repeats. The vigils come and go.

Both television news and the morning newspaper tell us of the tragedies. It’s not like Columbine or Newtown. Where many killed at one time in places you don’t see as high crime places. But the killing none the less.

I have a niece and a nephew living in Newtown. My niece helped hide some children for hours in a school laboratory that day, trying to keep them not only safe but calm and unthreatened. My nephew and his wife have five young boys in school there but not the Sandy Hook one thankfully. They were in lockdown for hours. You don’t know what this does to young minds.

So I worry when I see in Cleveland over and over again – not the dramatic tragic event of a Newtown – but depressingly similar violence. Seemingly ever present – again and again.

Unlike Newtown, Connecticut, a suburban community with median income over $100,000, and Columbine, Colorado, with median income near $90,000, Cleveland has median income of $25,000. That means half our people live under a household income of $25,000. And many with a lot less.

Yes, there is passing attention to the people.

But we learn so little about them. So little of the problems they face.

What are the causes?

What are the pressures of living in Poverty Cleveland?

Why murder by arson? Why such depravity?

Why isn’t more attention paid?

The front page last week told of the conviction for the deaths of nine – eight children – by fire, a record for Cleveland, said the Plain Dealer.

Next to that grim piece was the latest death by fire – two children

– 2 and 7 – by an “unknown man.” The photo dominating the page reveals the predictable reaction – a young woman taping stuffed animals to a telephone pole in front of the death scene. This says we have no answer.

Stuffed animals have become the reaction and symbol of the tragedies – stuffed animals. For lack of the possibility of any real solution.


It’s a predictable rite. The grief is real.

The hard-bitten streets of Cleveland and its people go on living day after day under pressures most of us can’t really imagine.

The answers are illusive.

More important the conditions go unexamined. The TV cameras, the reporters have become part of the ritual. They come. They show and tell.

Then they escape.

The people can’t escape.

We could, however, tell more than their story of tragedy.

We needed to be telling the weight of their lives.

Maybe if we know that we cannot simply commiserate with the misfortune but do something about it.

I suspect we will find that the times and conditions – jobless, low pay, cutbacks in aid, food stamp slashes, poor housing, the awful neglect and other pressures we can’t really imagine would be good for our citizenry to know.

Not just the result – the vile deaths, rapes, crimes – but causes.

It might force us to face some unpleasant facts about ourselves.

It might force our city leadership to think whether a new scoreboard has any relevance to the city’s quality of life.

Would it be too much to ask that the cameras and reporters go a step or two beyond the stuffed toys and the painful vigils? Into the lives being lived. Or endured.

–Roldo Bartimole

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