If Only Poverty Made for Good TV

The FBI reports that 1,494 people younger than 18 were murdered in America in 2008.

Of those children, 221 died before their first birthday; 338 of them were killed between the ages of 1 and 4.

Most of us know the name of only one of those victims, Caylee Anthony.

The temptation is to use the next 600 words to decry America’s obsession with the murder of one little girl in Orlando, Fla., while we ignore the violent deaths of 1,493 other children.

This is, after all, what columnists do when we’re concerned that America is losing its way. We like to tell ourselves that it’s just an issue of your being distracted and that with a few carefully chosen words of outrage, we can redirect your attention to what really matters. What really matters to us, anyway.

This is arrogance on our part, to be sure.

In this case, it’s also just as surely magical thinking.

My, how so many loved to hate Casey Anthony.

The 25-year-old woman, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, almost single-handedly — if you don’t count the thousands of hours of media coverage — gave millions of Americans permission to feel judgmental and superior. We like that. A lot.

Anthony’s trial, covered gavel to gavel, also made it a whole lot easier not to think about all the other children whose lives are in peril but invisibly so. As The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, for example, there are three times as many African-American children who are living in poverty as there are white children who are. One in 5 rural children live in poverty, too. And one-third of America’s children are in families in which no parent has a full-time job.

None of those statistics makes for compelling television, I realize.

Which brings me back to Casey Anthony, who is young, white and photogenic. She lied. A lot. She also refused to meet our standards for a grieving mother. She was too aloof, too quick with a smile. Her hair, her clothes, her tattoo, her sex life — Gosh, what a mess, we declared, riveted.

Day after day, hour after hour, we had at her.

Strangers traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to stand in line for the chance to sit in the courtroom and then offered their instant expertise to reporters waiting outside. Even the most local of news outlets posted breaking alerts about her trial.

After the jury acquitted her last week of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse, Twitter and Facebook exploded with verdicts to the contrary. The judge and defense attorneys say they’re concerned about death threats against Casey and the jurors. Because, by golly, that’s how you honor a child who’s been murdered.

Soon enough, we will forget about Casey Anthony, but not because we’ll turn our collective concern to the 15 million children living in poverty, the 17 million who go hungry or the 8.1 million who are uninsured. We like to focus on one at a time.

In 2009, the year after Caylee Anthony was killed, 1,348 more children were killed in America.

Here’s a partial list of the FBI’s breakdown:

Infants: 193.

Ages 1 to 4: 298.

Ages 5 to 8: 72.

Ages 9 to 12: 71.

Ages 13 to 16: 400.

Who among us can name even one?

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. To find out more about Connie Schultz (cschultz@plaind.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.



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