As everyone who follows the news had no doubt heard by now, a man attempting to board the New York subway was pushed onto the tracks before on oncoming train, run over, and killed. As tragic as this is, from my understanding it isn’t a totally abnormal occurrence. Last year, 146 people were struck by New York subway trains, 47 of which were killed, according to the MTA. The year before, it was 127 and 51, respectively. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility. This particular incident, unlike the others, is receiving a very large amount of attention from the media and public, which as far as I can tell is for two reasons: one, the victim was pushed, as opposed to most people who are hit while jumping down onto the tracks to retrieve cell phones and other personal effects that were dropped, or some other stupid behavior; and two, the incident was extraordinarily well-documented. A New York Post photographer happened to be in the right place at the right time – trusty camera and all – and witnessed the entire incident. The photographer apparently saw the tragedy as an opportunity to be shamelessly opportunistic and self-aggrandizing behind a thin veil of civic responsibility. From an article in the Post:
Post freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi — who had been waiting on the platform of the 49th Street station — ran toward the train, repeatedly firing off his flash to warn the operator.
“I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash,” said Abbasi, whose camera captured chilling shots of Suk’s tragic fight for his life.
Fortunately for all of us, Abbasi’s frantic, knee-jerk effort to save a man’s life by firing off his camera while running produced some spectacular images of the victim facing the train shortly before his demise (as Tosh would say, “and for that, we thank you”). To make matters more unfortunate, the New York Post seems to have decided to jump on Abbasi’s bad-taste bandwagon and squeeze one last entry in to the Insensitivity Of The Year Award competition, which Abbasi was expecting to upset this year. The newspaper published one of Abbasi’s tasteless photographs on December 4th, full front page, in color, with the headline, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die,” and underneath, in huge, all-caps, “DOOMED” (I’ve decided against posting the picture here myself, as I think it is unseemly, but as it is a relevant factor to this issue, the link to it and a New York Times post characterizing it is here). There is also video footage – with remarkably clear audio – of the altercation that supposedly occurred between the victim and his attacker shortly before the incident, which has of course gone viral on YouTube. The attacker, a homeless man, has been arrested and charged.
The Post has deservedly gotten a whole lot of ridicule for their front page photo, so our cultural conscience does seem to be somewhat intact. I think the blame for this has to lie a little more with the photographer than the newspaper. To give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was truly trying to save the man’s life by using the flash on his camera to alert the subway driver, then he deserves credit for that, but he then should have destroyed the pictures, or at least not released them to the media. That’s just too self-serving and profit-centric, and to be making money in such a bad context and in such a public way is going to cause some serious backlash. I am completely in favor of free speech, and against almost any kind of censorship, but the sensitivities of the victim and his family have to be taken into account in such a delicate situation. It’s a very dicey moral area, and as with most things there are at least two sides. But I have to call bad taste.
Jay Pinho has a good post about this subject at his blog, the first casualty, which is what first called my attention to the actions of the photographer.