I got the news the same way a lot of other people did. I on Patch.
At first, it was a severe accident with multiple victims being taken to various hospitals, some in critical condition. The story was soon updated and what had been a terrible accident had become a true tragedy. A man had died, succumbing to his injuries.
At the same time as this news unfolded, I found out I knew who this man was. I didn’t know him personally, but many of my friends and others whom I know and respect did know him very well. I knew who he was because of who he was.
He was a motorcycle rider who has devoted more hours than most of us can imagine attempting to improve motorcycle safety for all riders. He devoted even more of his heart to ensuring that every soldier who was going off to war, had returned from war and had died in war they so richly deserved.
Again, I knew before it was public that he had just the day before rode nearly 400 – 400! – miles in the rain to honor a soldier who was killed in action. At the moment of his tragic death, he was on the way to a sendoff for another soldier who was being deployed.
Yet none of that mattered, at least not according to the commentators who flooded the Patch article with their speculations, accusations and blame. Some insinuated, before any details of the accident were released, that his injuries and even his death were of his own making because he chose to ride without a helmet.
From there, the speculation became ever more surreal. Questions about why the multiple victims were transported to different hospitals were addressed with a tirade on how it is the insurance companies that dictate where an accident victim is taken. Debate over whether a traffic light should be or should have already been installed at this intersection took up the attention of dozens of more posters. Whether or not this would impede traffic flow or increase safety were discussed ad naseum.
Most sickeningly of all was the response to a family member of the man who died, again bringing up the idea that his death was somehow his own fault for not wearing a helmet.
I was truly sickened to think that someone who thinks like this, thinks it is not only acceptable but right and justified to make that kind of statement to a grieving family lives somewhere nearby.
I understand human nature is to look at a tragedy and try to convince ourselves that as long as we do not do what that other person did, then we are somehow safe from suffering the same fate. It is one of the less admirable and more foolish reactions, but it is a human one.
What is not human or humane is to publicly voice those thoughts and opinions when there are so few facts known. It is going to take time for the police and authorities to reconstruct the accident and assign responsibility and perhaps blame. At this point, indeed at the point at which all these comments were made, the only known facts were that an SUV rear-ended a car that was waiting to make a left turn, causing that car to crash into a motorcycle.
All that was and still is known, at least publicly, about the driver of the SUV is that he hit the car that was stopped; that he was not wearing a seat belt, and that he was ejected from the vehicle. He sustained life-threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
The occupants of the car consisted of a family of four; mom, dad and two little children, all of whom had to be extricated from their vehicle. Thankfully, they have all survived, though the mom is still in critical condition as of this writing.
And the motorcycle driver, who was merely tooling down the road, was critically injured and succumbed to those injuries, leaving a family to mourn.
At last count, there were more than 100 – 100! - comments in the thread, and too few of them even mentioned the fact that three families are devastated. One family lost a beloved member, by all accounts a true asset to the community, and people are actually arguing over details and speculations that as time has gone by have been proven to be patently false.
It is a certain type of thinking and a certain type of, I hesitate to say person, who anonymously posts on a tragedy with the sole purpose of making their point, a point that is wholly inappropriate and in no way germaine to the fact that people are suffering, a man had died and families are still too much in shock to even begin to grieve.
Most of these families are local, and if not readers of Patch, someone they know probably is. What the posters fail to recognize is these families are going to at least hear about all this. At a time when they rightly feel the world should stop revolving because for them it has, too many members of their community are more interested in discussing whether red light cameras are nothing but a revenue generating scam, and attaching their inane conversation to the single most earth shatteringly important piece of news of their lives.
If you are insulted by my statements, I’m glad. If you identify with the type of person I’m referring to, you should be insulted and ashamed. But, I fear shame is not an emotion you will feel, as that would require a level of compassion and consideration for your fellow human beings, a level of intelligence and common decency your words show you lack.
Many people, I’ll even say most people commenting — at least those who use their real names, are not trying to cause further pain and suffering for these families. I absolutely believe there is no forethought of malice; I also believe there was insufficient forethought.
Just because you didn’t intend to do harm does not free you from the responsibility that is yours for the harm you did. You didn’t mean to, but you didn’t mean not to. Even if you go back now and delete your comments, this is cyber-space. The words will be forever out there, and the harm they have done cannot be taken back.
Those who post anonymously know that exposing your true self, your true identity, would cause you to be an object of ridicule, condemnation and ostracization by the rest of us. You may lack the common sense to not write such hateful things, but you do have enough intelligence to know this to be true; it is why you hide behind what you alone think are witty or pithy pseudonyms.
Ask any fifth-grader and they will tell you that if you don’t want people to know what you’ve said or done, you probably shouldn’t say or do it. The next time the question “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” comes up, you can honestly say no.