Former Teacher Murdered in Homeless Shelter

Feb 4, 2016 by

Last week the front page of one of our city’s estimable tabloids featured a particularly shocking story. A former public school teacher, who was forced out of his house in Nyack a few years ago when he was around 60 years old, relocated recently to a homeless shelter where he was murdered a couple of days later.  The murder was random and, like all such crimes, senseless.

The story was a “perfect storm” for the newspaper, in that it could appeal to the vulgar curiosity of its readers and boost circulation accordingly. The market is insatiable for “human interest” stories of this kind. The scene of the murder was described with some of the vivid obligatory phrases of the genre that we have come to expect from such quality journalism: “butchered”, “grisly”, “pool of blood.”

Granted, printing sensationalist news is the basis and perhaps the charm of their existence. But the real story here, and unfortunately it’s hardly news, is that the newspaper couldn’t help digging up the victim’s alleged past, preferring dirt to gold

They emphasized details that encourage unflattering biases and images. In this case, it gave the tabloid a pretext for re-launching their dim spotlight on the public school system that they consider dysfunctional, especially regarding the disciplining of teachers.

The murder victim was a guy whose world had fallen apart. The story delves into his “troubled” history, having been “booted from the classroom” and suspended for around eight weeks for what two years afterwards could still only be called an allegation. T

hey definitely “cherry-picked” what they deemed the rotten fruit.  If it was relevant to the story, its pertinence was limited to its value as a spoiler to objectivity.

The reporters ( this had to be a team effort, since there wasn’t enough news to go around, apparently) did provide a partial  balance in their biography of the murdered teacher.  This focus touched upon rather than delved into. He had once been a student at one of the city’s “elite” academic high schools, he had won an award for excellence as a librarian and that a student said he was “cool.”

But overall they emphasized his disrepute at the expense of his humanity.

When the tabloids are down on their circulation they take to portraying people who are down on their luck and so this was a story made in heaven for them. Compounding their gusto was the fact that the victim was a teacher.

This victim was portrayed as a loser in life. But the whole picture of his existence utterly refutes that cruel characterization  It was subsequently revealed that this teacher was “brilliant, courageous, kind and…staggering, broad knowledge filled his brain” whose wisdom, intelligence and generosity were admired by his colleagues, friends and family. So what happened?

Reportedly he suffered from a “behavioral variant fronto-temporal degeneration.” It is described as a progressive form of dementia that is incurable. The teacher’s ( let us refer to him by his proud profession. He was so much more than a murder victim) brain is being donated for mental health research.

“It is our responsibility to take knowledge and use it to help. There is a stigma attached to mental illness, a shame and fear that prevents those who are sick from getting the help they need,” said his son.  Indeed, the way the original story was reported in The Post, there is even a stigma in being a murder victim!

Before the awareness is imposed on us by fate over which we have little if any control, let’s each of us remember our inherent frailties and our vulnerability to sudden traumatic reversals of fortune. All it takes is a blood clot, a slip on ice, a freak accident, or a chance encounter with a near stranger in a homeless shelter.

Even the mightiest among us can be reduced to pathos in a fraction of time.There but for the grace…

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