“Together we can change the face of our culture” was the subtitle chosen by editor Allen Houston for my previous column. Allen, who left this company shortly after that, chose a lot of good headlines in his two-plus years editing the paper, and we thank him and wish him great success in his new workplace.
But I regretted my main headline choice—“Unnatural Disasters the Worst,” about the school massacre that made America weep—because such unnatural disasters are more preventable than the “natural” kind like superstorm Sandy. The cultural climate needs changing in either case, by continuing the work to overcome the causes and help the afflicted, especially those alone in their loss. It’s the business of the media too, to keep government’s feet to the fire; in a recent edition of the Daily News, for example, concern with Sandy’s countless victims was found only in the letters to the editor.
Ah, I shouldn’t say “only.” Letters to the editor often have insights that get to the heart of the matter better than other reports. And thankfully, a resident of Peter Cooper Village shared a letter to the editor by local psychologist Richard Orbe-Austin about the emotional toll felt by residents there. Even though losses were minor compared to the massive kind felt elsewhere, they were substantial enough to cause emotional problems for 20 to 30 percent of the residents. They are the ones who often “suffer in silence, since others have moved on with their lives.” Elders often lack work communities. The psychologist urged residents to look out for vulnerable neighbors. And while the 1-800-HELPLINE resource was included, I thought of Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey’s belief that “the impersonal hand of government can never replace the caring hand of a neighbor.”
Don’t misunderstand; I think Humphrey would be appalled at the unconscionable delay in getting federal relief to superstorm Sandy victims. But he would also be concerned that “social service hands” increasingly take the place of caring hands of neighbors, civic and faith group and even family members. There just isn’t time to give “caring hands.”
Several recent Times pieces aired research on how elders with disabilities, especially, are the most vulnerable in times of disaster, including fire-caused deaths and injuries. But, while never forgetting the massive needs of superstorm Sandy victims, attention must be paid to traffic calamities, too. Charles Komanoff’s Streetsblog reported recently that five pedestrians were killed locally in four days of the holiday season, mostly as a result of the deadly “turning into a crosswalk” circumstance. How disastrous that government, whose first duty it is to protect the public, still ignores Komanoff’s 1998 manual “Killed By Automobile,” which has all the stats to support this hazardous “turning violation” claim, along with ways to prevent them. So here’s praying a copy recently given to the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association will prompt this highly effective 25-year-old civic group to make it their number one mission.
While Betty White’s TV program Off Their Rockers features elders playing outrageous pranks on youthful strangers encountered in an urban street setting, real-life collisions between elderly pedestrians and vehicles are no laughing matter. So we should heed Jim Battaglia’s call for “a video camera to be mounted above and on the rear wheels of a bus or truck to supplement the regular rear-view mirror which might not give an adequate view of pedestrians.”
Change can be accomplished if enough of us try—meeting the massive needs of Hurricane Sandy’s victims and overcoming traffic behaviors that routinely claim the lives and health of innocent victims with little or no media coverage. And we sure could use a leader like Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate Jan. 21.
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