If you just read the headlines, you’d think Amtrak 188 derailed because of a mentally unstable 32-year-old gay engineer from Queens who had a need — a need for speed.
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My mother read a headline from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that went into the engineer’s past. It read that Brandon Bastion “… was obsessed with trains as a teen,” to which my stepfather replied in a sarcastic tone, “Sucks for him; he’ll never operate a train again.”
Because clearly this is 100 percent his fault. He did it. Blame him. Cased closed.
Eh, not so fast.
We live in a society where you’re often judged entirely by one event or characteristic. Add the internet to that judgment, and everything about you now fits into a tight 140 characters. The nuances aren’t important, because they don’t fit the character constraints or the buzzy partly sarcastic headline. This is why my stepdad, and many like him, have already decided where the fault lies and moved on.
Tragedies are complex and result from many factors. Media, especially the click-bait variety, could throw us some info bones like, “Amtrak train derailed because of Congress.” That would definitely get some clicks and some could argue that it’s true.
You see, the train had an automatic speed control system that could have prevented the crash. Why didn’t it? Because the system, “… which was tantalizingly close to being operational, was delayed by budgetary shortfalls, technical hurdles and bureaucratic rules, Amtrak officials said.”
Um, that’s a big oops. Whose oops is it? The folks who set Amtrak’s budget. Who are they? You guessed it: Congress!
Republicans cut $1 billion from President Obama’s proposed $2.45 billion Amtrak funding request literally the day after the derailment — because no time like the present. To be fair, House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Higg said that the cut wouldn’t hurt Amtrak’s operating budget and that most of it was intended to block Obama’s proposed high-speed rail program, aka “railroad to nowhere.”
OK, so it’s kinda Congress’ fault, too, but the dude’s being gay totally made him crazy, thus unable to operate heavy machinery, right?
That’s what Charles C. Johnson, sometimes journalist, always idiot, thinks. He contends via Twitter that “Gays have a higher rate of mental illness than do straights. You decide if engineer’s homosexuality is worth noting. I report it.”
His latest “report” on the engineer involves publishing his nude pics. Because that’s what a serious journalist would do.
Oh, also, he’s a stand-up comedian. He tweeted, “Today’s Amtrak flaming problem was the engine. Thursday’s was the engineer.”
Très LOL, yo! He should try out for “America’s Got A Lot of Crazy People,” coming soon to Lifetime right after “Dance Moms.”
Oh, but guess what, he’s not the only one who thinks Bastion’s sexuality had something to do with the crash.
Sandy Rios, host of a wildly popular American Family Association radio show, called Bastion’s homosexuality “a factor” in the crash. I’m looking forward to hearing what Rush Limbaugh thinks.
You see what’s going on here? It’s a character assault based on one aspect of a man who likely made a horrible, and deadly, mistake. But instead of looking at all the factors involved in that mistake, we focus on his personal life because it’s an easy target for judgment.
After my stepfather made the remark about Bastion never operating a train again, I asked him to consider other factors, such as budgetary concerns, managerial pressure for on-time arrivals, a possible race against the clock to avoid going overtime. I did this to paint a picture of the real-life realities Bastion, and all of us, face in our everyday lives.
We’re all more than a headline, or a tweet, or a 15-second Instagram video. We’re human, made up of different ideas and experiences that shape who we are. By focusing on one event, and especially one aspect of a person, we’re using this judgment as an answer to the problem, or worse, flat out discrimination.
Think before you tweet-judge. Who knows — someday you might be the one being hunted.
This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.