The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Save a Drowning Man. Or Not.

I’m going to have to start a “What’s the Matter With People?!” file for stories like this one. There was the mob who killed a man in Texas, after he got of a car to stop them from killing the driver, who had just hit a child and then actually stopped to see if the child was alright. Then there were the people who stepped over a woman as she bled to death, in order to make their convenience store purchases. But not before stopping to snap a photo on a cell phone. And, most recently there was the woman who responded to news of a brutal crime in her neighborhood with “So a lady was raped. Big deal.”

A man who drowned trying to save his two sons trapped in a rip current could have been helped by tourists passing by from a parasailing trip, according to a captain who jumped in to save the boys.

Police say 38-year-old Renald Charles of Fruitland died Sunday while attempting to rescue his sons, 10 and 13. The boys and their father were spotted by Michael Andrew, owner of a 31-foot boat that was taking tourists to shore from a parasailing trip.

Andrew and one of his crew members jumped in, but the tourists videotaped the drowning instead of helping Charles, Andrew told The (Salisbury) Daily Times.

“I mean, c’mon, who are these people?” Andrew said

The boys survived. And maybe, if they’re lucky, those tourists will be nice enough to give them video that contains the last glimpse of their father. That is, of course, after they’ve copied and uploaded them to the web.

But I’m reaching a point at which I’m inclined to not to be too hard on the tourists, and the people in the stories above. They are, after all, just swimming with the cultural current.

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We learned from George Will and Bill O’Reilly during Katrina that some people deserve to drown. If they were good people and had done the right things, they’d have had SUVs and they could’ve piled their families, filled up the tank on the credit card, and make for higher ground. So, they probably deserved to be right where they were.

After all, we live in a world of drowning people; people who are drowning in economic crises, who’ve had even the leaky lifejacket of bankruptcy snatched away from them. And we’re content to let them drown, because we believe on some level that God is on the side of the strong, that wealth and well being are evidence of virtue because God rewards faith with wealth and well-being. If we’re fortunate enough to have a decent share of both, it allows us to feel good about ourselves and believe that we are where we are because of our own virtue, our own goodness. We deserve to be where we are, and they deserve to be where they are.

We live in a country where the rich are getting richer, and the gulf between us and them only seems to grow wider; even as we subsidize the lifestyles of the rich and famous, even as the programs that would help a great many of us are cut, and even as their taxes are cut — cuts that, we were promised, would create jobs but didn’t. We may soon become a nation of drowning people, watched by the people on the boat, even as some of us go under.

I know I’ve probably worn out this analogy, but I think that same thing that makes the stories above possible is what makes the policies above — and their consequences — possible.

In more ways than one, we’ve become accustomed to watching each other drown. Just watching.


  1. I love everything you write, and have long wanted to comment simply to say that. Now that I have an afternoon furlough on childcare, I have the time to thank you properly for your (copious, compassionate, and consistently insightful) contribution to the community.

    I appreciate what you’re drawing attention to with this post, along with “Empathetically Enhanced” a few days earlier. The stories you note are horrifying. I have to hope they represent exceptions to daily compassion? And that’s why they were newsworthy? Lordy I hope so. Though there is not a seam in your argument, nor is there any contradicting the abundant evidence for it in the wake of Katrina, say, or the increasing wealth/poverty gap.

    I very much want to work together with folks such as you (and the many other kindred spirits) to figure out how we might be able to pierce that numbness. Or rouse those of us who aren’t numb into more spirited engagement. For your part, I think that your daily writing goes a long, long way toward that. It rouses me, I tell you that much. Let’s hope in this regard that Margaret Mead might have been right? (“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”)

  2. Terrance, Morales was not killed by a mob. The initial reports of it being a mob that attacked were wrong. It was a group of three or four people that confronted the driver and when Morales (who was a passenger in the car) got out of the car to help his friend, it was just a single individual who threw the fatal punches at him. The “mob” of 2,000-3,000 was over a block away. From the Austin American Statesman:

    A group of three or four men attacked the driver of the car, and Morales suffered fatal head trauma after coming to the driver’s aid.

    Morales’ death attracted worldwide media attention after police initially reported that there were 2,000 to 3,000 people in the area for a Juneteenth celebration. City officials later reduced the number of people in the vicinity of the attack and clarified that the murder was not related to the celebration.

    See also the article on the arrest of the suspect.