For Martin William Richard: Peace, little man

By Pamela K. Santos

I feel sick to my stomach reading about the death of the 8-year-old Martin William Richard in Boston. He was a third-grader just like my son. My heart hurts for his family.

In a statement, Martin’s father asked for “patience and for privacy as we work to simultaneously grieve and recover.”

At the same time, my head hurts that I can’t simply read about what happened without trying to avoid shoddy, sensationalist journalism. CNN, after the Steubenville verdict… NOPE. ABC… nope.

Martin’s life was so short that news outlets keep turning to friends and family to paint a fuller portrait of this kid. His friend and frequent playmate was asked how she felt. She said she felt “scared” because she didn’t know where the bombers who did this could be, and so, in her mind they were everywhere.

I feel the same way about this that I felt after Newtown. Media outlets have forgotten what good journalism looks and sounds like. I don’t want sound bites and edited video clips that get recycled in an endless loop to fill airtime. I want real journalism — tell the story. Tell the news.

Today there is a photo that has gone viral in less than a few hours. I have made a conscious/conscientious decision to not post it here. You can easily search for it by typing “no more hurting” or “peace” along with Martin’s name in the search field. You can also find it on Facebook because the poster made the photo public. Again, I have decided not to post the link.

At the time I am writing this, the photo (around 3pm/PST) has 116,596 likes and 67,271 shares (number of downloads is unknown). The photo was posted about eight hours ago (7 am-ish here in San Francisco, so close to 10 a.m. on the East Coast).

HuffPost and its ilk picked up the photo by noontime. I’m not going to lambast this person for trying to honor Martin’s memory. She wasn’t even Martin’s teacher. She was a friend of the teacher who gave art projects to his class that touched upon social issues.

What concerns me most about this photo being readily available online is that people rush to share and make it viral without hesitating even a moment to reflect on its appropriateness. The irony of Martin holding a sign with words he wrote (“No more hurting people/Peace”) is undeniable. We should take those words to heart but I question whether it is right for this photo to circulate all over the Internet after his grieving family asked for privacy. I am very protective of my son’s image; I try to maintain as much of a modicum (or delusion) of control over his likeness and intellectual property of his artwork on the Internet.

A woman posted a comment under the photo: “Been thinking about him all morning and having a face and connection to go with it makes it that much more real.” Isn’t the cost of violence real enough? Do we as Americans lead such a sheltered life free from so-called “real violence” that we need to have a first-degree personal connection to grasp and process its realness?

I doubt that his parents have much time to be Internet watchdogs and take down personal photos of their deceased child. Martin’s mother and sister are still recovering from their own injuries.

I can only speak to my own feelings as a mother and no one else’s experiences. There is much to be said about solidarity, the feeling of being united with other human beings. To me, it’s the near-visceral feeling of community and mutual support. It may be the idealist in me that believes we all start life with the capacity to feel for other people. Let’s reclaim that again, here, in this moment when we are grasping for other hands to hold because we are lost and overwhelmed by sadness. Loss is incomprehensible; it cannot be wholly grasped by our limited minds so we need our hearts to finish the job.

Let’s honor those this world has lost yesterday using our minds and our hearts. Show solidarity but use a pinch of restraint and good conscience before you hit that “Share” link. There is much to be said about plain and simple solidarity. Sometimes it is unspoken. Sometimes it is best expressed in what is not said, or in this case, posted online for the whole world to see and claim.

Let’s not forget the aspect of mutual respect in solidarity. I want to respect Martin’s family in my way, which is to refrain from uploading his picture all over my social media.

I remember you, Martin William Richard, without ever meeting you. When days go by and people have forgotten your face because your photo has stopped being viral to make way for the next trending photo, I’ll remember you without ever needing to call to mind your face. Because in my mind and heart your face is the same as my son’s – innocent, young, happy. His face is the same as every child that we meet so, no, thank you, media outlets. I don’t need careless visual exploitation of one child’s face to remember violence and tragedy and death and heartbreak are all real.

Peace, little man.

Even though she is currently writing from San Francisco, Pamela K. Santos is a do-gooding New Yorker down to her very soul. This essay originally appeared in her blog.

red line

Trust our award-winning law firm with your immigration case.

Katamisán Cakes: French technique, tropical flavors. Weddings & special events. Click for info.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: