Crime, Tragedy, and the Media

`NO wallet, so killer opened fire.'' That was a front-page headline in the Boston Globe last week. A young, successful suburban couple - the wife seven-months pregnant - were jumped outside a Boston hospital, where they had gone for a prenatal checkup, and at gunpoint told to drive several streets away. When the husband said he had no wallet (he didn't) and reached for his car phone, the assailant shot both the couple. The wife died after delivering the baby by Caesarean section.

Not since the multiple rape of a young stockbroker in New York's Central Park last summer has a crime story so dominated news in the Northeast. People are outraged. Boston sent 100 police on a sweep of the streets. Mayor Raymond Flynn spoke at a rally.

As in the Central Park rape case, though, community activists, city-council members, and many in the media have been critical of the attention given the crime. They point out that 107 murders have been committed in the city this year. Many of these involved minority youths.

Why haven't these other cases been given more attention? That the couple was white - the woman a tax lawyer - suggests race and class bias, it is said.

These are concerns to heed. Suffering and brutality that don't command the media glare should not be ignored. But in an age when it is easy to be numbed to disaster - to feel ``compassion fatigue'' - public outrage over a criminal injustice may be a positive step toward attacking crime at all levels of society.

``No wallet, so killer opened fire.'' The act was both banal and barbaric. The result was a simple tragedy in a complicated city - which partly gives the story its force. To frame it only in race or class terms mitigates its power to awaken people to the need to fight crime, and the conditions that lead to crime in the US.

White and black Boston was outraged last year over the death of 11-year-old Tiffany Moore, shot by a stray bullet in a gang war.

In the New York rape case a rush to manage the story masked a more insidious crime element: the brutalizing of females.

Sometimes a story seizes our attention because it ought to.

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