The tape had barely been cleared from outside Police Headquarters when an all-too-typical question arose in Philly media: Was 46-year-old science radio show host Joseph Heard to blame for the hit-and-run crash that killed him?
Seriously. This question was asked, and an answer seemed to be implied in numerous stories written on the subject.
On Tuesday, the driver of a Massachusetts-based tour bus struck Joseph Heard as he was three-quarters of the way across a crosswalk on Franklin Square, then dragged him 50 feet before running him over with the bus’ back wheels, killing him, before continuing to the I-95 ramp south.
The coverage and reaction to the incident has been…well, problematic. To say the least.
Here are some of the (many) problems stemming from Philly.com’s reporting on this particular instance, so far, highlighted and screenshot. Full stories can be read by clicking “Problem.”
Why it’s a problem:
Uh, wearing headphones is legal. Whether or not the pedestrian was wearing headphones has literally no bearing on the case whatsoever.
This is the sort of thing that, unfortunately, happens often in hit-and-run crash cases. For instance, when a Temple University student was hit by an unlicensed driver earlier this year, the question on many peoples’ minds was whether or not she was wearing a helmet (which is not a legal requirement of cyclists), and not why someone was driving without a license (which is totally illegal) and left the scene of a crime (also very illegal).
Will the media cover all the crimes the pedestrian was not breaking when he was struck and killed by a bus?
Why it’s a problem:
Two things: First, again, the headphones. Crossing the street with headphones in is totally legal; failing to yield for a pedestrian and leaving the scene of the crime is not. Second, Heard was “three quarters” of the way across the street when he was struck, according to reports. Presumably, when he began walking, he did make sure nothing was coming across the street. Additionally, the bus driver had an obligation to look and ensure he yielded to any pedestrian in the crosswalk. But either way, why are the media focusing on what is not legally required at the expense of the behavior that is? Why was the “obligation” noted here worth repeating?
But that’s nothing compared to this morning’s clickbait-y teaser headline, which has since been taken down:
Why it’s a Problem:
Are you kidding me? Not only is there nothing in the article to suggest Joseph Heard was at fault for his own death (after all, “pedestrians always have the right of way”) but it’s also an incredibly mean-spirited suggestion, likely written in the cynical nature of getting more clicks.
While some are attempting to identify the source of Philly’s hit-and-run epidemic, others are going out of their way to cast blame on the dead, who are no longer around to defend themselves. This is problematic. I know we can all do better.