One of the saddest tales in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is the story of Glenda Moore, a Staten Island woman whose two children – Connor, age 4, and Brandon, age 2 – were swept away by a storm surge. Moore reportedly knocked on her neighbors' doors, begging for help, but no one would help her.
Glenda Moore is black. Her husband, Damien Moore, is white. Staten Island, New York City's fifth and often forgotten borough, is 64% white. Unfortunately, these facts are pertinent to this story.
When two children of an Upper West Side family were allegedly murdered by their nanny, many people criticized the children's mother, Marina Krim, for having a nanny. If, as Salon Magazine put it, the Krim case “unleashed an onslaught of trolls” â€” the Moore tragedy has launched an avalanche of particularly vicious trolling.
A person posting as PCwriter posted the following comment about Moore on CNN:
“Yes the mother should go to hell for putting her children in harms wayâ€¦. I feel bad for the children who lost their lives. Seeing that they had to depend on an irresponsible mother. Poor children never had a chance.”
As a mother, I can assure PCWriter that Glenda Moore, after losing her babies, is already in hell. Should Moore have evacuated sooner? Perhaps, but does it matter? A mother and father lost their two young children in the storm. Shouldn't we have compassion for them?
No, according to a person posting as gtrbt1 on The Christian Post (The CHRISTIAN Post, mind you):
“Many whites, including myself, have experienced black on white crime first hand. So how many people are going to let a muscular, screaming black woman into their houseâ€¦? How would you know whether it was just a trick and you were about to be the victim of home invasion, robbery, rapeâ€¦That is the problem, you just don't know. The one thing black people never want to do is own up to the fact that they have a bad reputation as a race because they have earned itâ€¦. And that is the problem, blacks in America on average feel entitled to engage in looting and crime against whites with the assumption that we deserve it. And then people are shocked when whites won't open their door to a big black woman screaming and pounding on it? Hello, get a clue. ”
Never mind that Moore is reportedly 5'3â€³ and 130 pounds – gtrbt1 had to transform her into a “big black woman.” Because, you know, racism.
Judgments about whether to stay or evacuate in the wake of impending natural disasters can only be validated or repudiated in hindsight. Last year, the day before Hurricane Irene was set to strike, I drove with my two kids to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and boarded one of the last ferries of the day to the island of Martha's Vineyard. We had rented a vacation beach house with friends for a week, and I didn't want to forfeit my vacation. From what I could tell (based on my less than exhaustive research), the storm wasn't forecast to hit Martha's Vineyard directly. I convinced myself the trip was a risk worth taking.
In fact, Irene more or less bypassed Massachusetts, including Martha's Vineyard. We got lucky. Had the storm taken a different turn, I might be telling a very different story right now. Indeed, had Glenda Moore been able to make it to her mother's house in Brooklyn, Connor and Brandon might still be alive.
As we saw in the Krim murder case, mothers are easy targets whenever these kinds of horrific events occur. The Moore trolling goes beyond mommy blaming, though. Moore is being faulted not only for poor judgment, but for bringing censure upon her neighbors by daring to ask them for help. Unfortunately, these detestable attitudes are frequently mirrored in comments on news stories whenever black people are involved in tragic events.
Moore's neighbors were the opposite of “Good Samaritans” in more ways than one. The term “Good Samaritan” is used to refer to any person who helps a stranger in need. In the Biblical parable, the paradox is that the Samaritan â€” who is not just a stranger, but a man from a detested culture â€” helped the man on the road who had been beaten by robbers and left for dead, when his own people would not. The parable teaches that the injured man's “neighbor” was not the one who shared his race or religion, but the one who showed mercy on him.
In his “I've Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referenced the Good Samaritan parable to explain why he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers in spite of the threats that had been made on his life. King, in imagining why the priest and Levite refused to help the man on the road, echoes the fear expressed by some of the commenters on the Moore case:
“And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, â€˜If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?'”
That was the first question – indeed, the only question – Glenda Moore's neighbors asked.
In contrasting the Good Samaritan's response with that of the Levite, King shows that fear can drive a different response:
“But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: â€˜If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”
In a society that values individualism over community, there are no neighbors. And so we have to ask ourselves – if we do not stop to help and show empathy for each other, what will happen to us?
Carolyn Edgar is an attorney and writer living in New York City. She is a contributor to sites on parenting and relationships, including CocoaMamas, MarriedMySugarDaddy and Technorati, and has also contributed to My Brown Baby. Carolyn's personal essays have been published in Reconstruction Magazine and Mirror on America: Short Essays and Images from Popular Culture (Bedford/St. Martin's). She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School.