DN Editorial: Where's the outrage?

Posted: July 10, 2014

AS THE DETAILS of the Fire Department's response to Saturday's deadly fire on Gesner Street continue to unfold, there remains one reason to applaud the community protest over the deaths of four children early Saturday: The death of a child goes against nature, and a visceral and passionate outrage is natural.

Three 4-year-olds - Maria and Marialla Bowah and Patrick Sanyeah - and 1-month-old Taj Jacque were victims of the Southwest Philadelphia blaze, and whatever the cause, these deaths are heartbreaking.

The tight-knit Liberian community accused firefighters of not responding promptly, though city officials deny this.

Until the facts become clearer, we share the community's pain and grief. And we can't help but wonder why every death of every child in this city doesn't elicit a similar response. Unfortunately, we suspect that part of the answer is that there are too many.

The city's Health Department oversees a group review of child deaths in detail; last year, their Child Death Review Report covering the years 2009 and 2010 is a sobering look at the many ways children die in this city. (The 2009/2010 deaths are the most recently reviewed; there is a lag time between deaths and the report because of the time it takes to review the deaths in detail. The department studies deaths of people younger than 21.)

The city averaged nearly 450 child deaths a year. In the years studied, 11 children died in fires, 17 from accidental drug intoxications and 35 from transportation-related injuries. Infant mortality is a problem this modern city should be ashamed of: about 50 infants a year die suddenly and unexpectedly and 34 infants die of accidental suffocation.

The accidental deaths, like those that claimed the four young lives this Saturday, are tragic enough.

The intentional deaths are what we should all be protesting - every day. The latest deaths reviewed revealed that 13 children died from abuse or neglect, and nine of those were younger than 2. Deaths from other intentional injuries, including homicide and suicide, numbered 205.

The Police Department sheds more detailed light on shootings and homicides. Since 2011, 19 children younger than 10 were shot, and 29 children 10 and younger were slain.

Twenty-nine children younger than 10 were slain in this city in three years. Why aren't we all taking to the streets to protest this?

If it's true, as the Child Death Review Report says, that the death of a child is an indicator of the health of a community as a whole, Philadelphia is ailing. We should be outraged, and thank the Gesner Street community for giving voice to our collective grief - grief that we should all be expressing far more frequently.

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