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Boy Dies in Accident: News Makes You Feel He Deserved It

February 8, 2012

Earlier this week, a boy died in San Antonio. He was 17 years old and his name was Vincent Saucedo. If you heard about it on the news, you would think he deserved to die.

Vincent died when he was trying to “tag” (paint graffiti) on a stationary train. As he did so, an oncoming train noticed him on the tracks and honked, but couldn’t stop the train before it struck Vincent and killed him instantaneously.

I know about this story because my cousin who lives in San Antonio is his family’s next door neighbor, and was the contact person for the medical examiner’s office. She had to deliver the news to Vincent’s parents that they had positively identified his body.

What struck me about this story were two things. The first was the picture above. I have a 17-year-old nephew (who undoubtedly makes that face all the time) and if something like this happened to him my heart would break in a million little pieces and the pain of his loss would never go away. The second was the news story that first aired about this accident.

I can’t embed the video but you can watch it here. The title of the video was originally, “Man Accused of Tagging Hit by Train.” (It’s since been changed to “Teen Accused of Tagging Hit by Train.”) The story goes on to focus on the problem of tagging in the area and a local bar-owner shakes her head twice on camera stating that the boy died for something that won’t even be there tomorrow.

There are at two aspects to this story that I find deeply troubling:

Thinking of Vincent as a Man

I know what you’re thinking. “The first responders probably guessed his age and thought he was a man in his 20s. They made a mistake, so what?” (Or if you study the things I study, you’re in fact thinking the comment below.)

Research shows that Black boys are often mistaken to be older than they are. This can lead to beliefs that they are less innocent than White boys when partaking in juvenile (as in immature) behavior. Moreover, Black boys are more likely to be tried as adults in this country, which means they are more likely to receive harsher punishments than White boys who commit the same crimes at the same age. Although I don’t have research showing the same thing happens to Latino boys, there is at least some chance it’s the case.

This is not a minor mistake. The audience who viewed this coverage thought Vincent was a man in his 20s. They probably thought he should have known better and maybe even that he was destined for a life of crime anyway.

Graffiti is Not “Art”

Later news coverage of Vincent’s tragic death captured his friends and family saying that he died “doing what he loved…making art.” But the first broadcast puts tagging right up there with rape and murder. This may be a stretch, but the bar-owner’s assertion that she doesn’t go to the unlit part of the street because she’s afraid of what might happen makes these crimes parallel in the minds of the viewer. In general, women don’t walk in unlit places because they’re afraid of getting raped or murdered, not because they might get spray paint on their clothes.

Tagging basically means that graffiti artists mark up property with an alias they’ve created in order to compete with other artists to see who can “hit up” the craziest spots and who can make the best art. Yes, technically it’s illegal. But then again, so is what is labeled “street art”…and it’s now considered political commentary that is auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars at Sotheby’s. Banksy (currently the most well-known street artist) has made money not only off his “illegal” art at auction, but also from museum exhibitions and his documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, that coincidentally was nominated for an Oscar. Who’s to say Vincent wasn’t the next great street artist?

To make the first story about the illegality of his actions, actions that are easily considered a form of art given a different context, is horrendous and completely unfair to this boy and his family. The news story could have been a warning to people who hang out and/or tag near the trains to be careful because of the potential consequences. Instead, the reporter chose to frame the story in such a way that it almost seemed like the loss of a boy’s life in a violent and tragic manner is his own fault.

Yes, I am sad about Vincent’s death. And you should be too. Perhaps if he had had more access to resources that would allow him to express himself through more legitimate artistic mediums this may not have happened. Or maybe it would have. But either way, no child deserves to die, even if what they were doing at the time was wrong.

__________________________________________________________

If you would like to donate to Vincent’s funeral costs, please email me directly at smartiepopp@gmail.com.

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