What Are We Worth?

by Ken Hedoit

What is the value of a human life?

Is it truly possible for us to differentiate from one life to the next? Who gets to decide these things? What are the factors that go into this decision? Smoker vs. nonsmoker? Drinker? Age? Race? Social status? Marital status? what is the criteria for determining a person’s worth?

I know that according to my insurance I’m worth about $200,000 in the ground, but what happens after that? What happens to the man, the myth, the legend after all is said and done? What about before that? After I’m dead it won’t matter much to me what I was worth; I want to know now.

This is happening everywhere around us on a daily basis, and we are so spell-struck by Walt Disney and the children’s cartoons we grew up on that we don’t even realize it.

Ask yourself: Are you worth mentioning? It sounds ridiculous the first time it rolls off your tongue, but if you really roll it around and appreciate the true depth of the question it can be quite unnerving. I mean, this is a rough question to ask. Fact is, the answers have manifested themselves throughout history right in front of us.

This is most prevalent in our media outlets. I’m talking about televised news, the radio, newspapers, the internet, and especially Facebook, where on such a grand scale self worth can begin to take a morbid twist. I mean, just think about the amount of information that can be circulated throughout these venues and yet we find ourselves listening to the same stories or reading the same headlines that these media sources think are worth telling.

I wonder who makes that call. Who has to make that decision? Who determines which story is more relevant than others? Which one is getting on the front page? Which ones are worth mentioning?

This can become a very serious issue when these media outlets are devaluing the greatest asset our communities have, which are its residents; our neighbors, our peers, our friends, and our families.

For instance, let’s take a look at two stories: One takes place in Philadelphia, where a man was confronted on his way home from work by two men who attempted to rob him and in the end killed him.

The next story is about a young man from Bucks County who was taken down behind a local supermarket, bound, and shot in the chest by three armed men. Both stories are very tragic but the biggest thing that separated them was about six pages of print and tube time.

The first of these stories was plastered all across the silver lining of our television screens for weeks and littered across the covers of every major newspaper.

Articles and time slots about this man’s life, his career, the events of his death, up to making the funeral arrangements known, all of these things meticulously recorded and reported to the eager public.

The other story… not so much.

The first story was about one of Philly’s finest, Police Officer Moses Walker Jr. How many full spreads did this man get? How many front page articles? The same article in every paper, as if there was nothing else going on in the world at that moment. What made this man worth mentioning? A small piece of metal?

The second story was about Michael Marino Jr., a Bucks County man who was apprehended by three police officers behind a local supermarket, bound by handcuffs, and then shot in the chest.

Philadelphia Police Officer Moses Walker Jr.
Michael Marino Jr.
Michael Marino Jr. CREDIT: Burlington County Times

I found Michael, buried in the back of the local section of our newspaper in a small corner of page B3. Why? What was the difference? Two men taken from their families and friends, robbed of the time they truly deserved; yet something set them apart in death and I’m talking about more than just six pages of newsprint.

Was Michael’s story less newsworthy? I mean, a dead cop sells more papes, there is no denying that. It also doesn’t look so good having a “Killer Cops” article next to the “Cop Killers” article, does it?

There is a saying, a religious one so brace yourself: “How can you thank God for what you have, then curse him in the same breathe?” Does that apply here? Would Michael’s story have been told if not for bad timing? Think about that for a second. Let’s look at two other stories.

One is the story of an infant, a 10-month-old, who went missing. Her grandmother was found beaten to death at the scene.Within a week the infant was found dead near the initial scene of the crime. Very sad, yet the coverage on this was somewhat limited. At least in comparison to another story.

The story of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared and was also later found dead near the initial scene. Do you recognize these stories?

The infant child was Saanvi Venna and the other, Autumn Pasquale.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I remember watching the news when Autumn went missing and all you saw were small news clips of people searching. People from the neighborhood, family, friends, even strangers coming to help find this little girl. Every time they did an update you could see people in the background somewhere helping with the search.

What about Saanvi?

I heard the father, this poor man, pleasing with people in broken English, crying out for mercy. As a father myself, I cannot imagine the feeling and my heart broke for him.

Autumn Pasquale
Autumn Pasquale CREDIT: Facebook
Saanvi Venna
Saanvi Venna CREDIT: Facebook

Because there was no one, it was just him. In reality, I think that is part of the reason the FBI was brought in so quickly, but again I may be cynical.

What is it about Pasquale that put her on the front page in comparison to Saanvi, who I found 5 pages deep into our local section on B4? What was it about Pasquale that grabbed people’s hearts and put them into action? What was it about Saanvi that made them passive? What was it that made Autumn worth mentioning? Is blonde hair and blue eyes really that much more important or relevant than Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl?

Still think I’m being cynical? It couldn’t be a race thing, right? It couldn’t be a social thing, right? Let’s go back to 2005, when a young mother named LaToyia Figueroa went missing.

A beautiful young Philadelphia native, who was five months pregnant at the time of her disappearance. Now that is big news, this should be everywhere, right?

In the end I guess her timing was as good as Michael’s, because she disappeared the same time as Natallee Holloway.

Now there’s a household name! What a story that was! The missing girl from Aruba was everywhere you looked. Hourly updates, interviews with the family. Had they found her? Any leads? America needed to know what was happening every step of the way.

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Meanwhile, LaToyia’s story received a small mention in the Metro. Her family pleaded for help from our local media, but only received a cameo. Even Beanie Sigel put up a $100,000 reward for information while in prison. I guess he thought she was worth mentioning.

Let’s take this a step further. Joran Van Der Sloot, the man who allegedly killed Holloway also killed another woman from Peru. What was her name? Who was this Brown Eyed Girl?

Stephany Flores was killed five years after Holloway’s disappearance. What was her story? How did Stephany’s story fall short of the notoriety her predecessor achieved in death? Two women, both murdered by the same man, and yet something again separates them.

Look at yourself and think about it. How often do we do this ourselves? When we see someone who needs help and we just walk past them, because we have others who are more important to us. We tell ourselves that it isn’t our problem or that it’s okay because we don’t know them. As if to save our compassion for those who most deserve it, but in reality it is us who need help; help realizing that these are the people who need us the most because they have nobody else.

Like LaToyia, who was reported missing by her place of employment; like the father of Saanvi, who stood alone appealing for help. This kind of thinking that allows us to differentiate ourselves and our families from others and excuse their suffering makes it possible for us to see it on a daily basis and somehow not be affected.

This disassociation has been evolving in our communities for a long time now and yet we wonder why we can’t pull people together. We need to start caring about everyone equally if we really want to make a change, or maybe you’ll be the next one they bury in the corner of B3.

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