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America Can Relax; The Casey Anthony Show's Over
The FBI reports that 1,494 children under the age of 18 were killed in America in 2008.
Of these children, 221 died before their first birthday; 338 were murdered between the ages of 1 and 4. Most of us know the name of only one of these victims: Caylee Anthony.
The temptation is to use the next 600 words to decry America's obsession with the murder of one little girl in Orlando, Fla., while we ignore the violent deaths of 1,493 other children.
This is, after all, what columnists do when we're concerned that America is losing its way. We like to tell ourselves that it's just an issue of your being distracted, and that with a few carefully chosen words of outrage, we can redirect your attention to what really matters. What really matters to us, anyway.
This is arrogance on our part, to be sure.
In this case, it's also just as surely magical thinking.
My, how so many of us loved to hate Casey Anthony.
The 25-year-old mother, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, almost single-handedly -- if you don't count the thousands of hours of media coverage -- gave millions of Americans permission to feel judgmental and superior. We like that. A lot.
Anthony's trial, covered gavel to gavel, also made it a whole lot easier not to think about all the other children whose lives are in peril, but invisibly so.
As the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, for example, three times as many African-American children live in poverty, compared with white children. One in five rural children lives in poverty, too. And one-third of America's children are in families where no parent has a full-time job. None of these statistics makes for compelling television, I realize.
Which brings me back to Casey Anthony, who is young, white and photogenic. She lied. A lot. She also refused to meet our standards for a grieving mother. She was too aloof, too quick with a smile. Her hair, her clothes, her tattoo, her sex life: God, what a mess, we declared, riveted.
Day after day, hour after hour, we had at her.
Strangers traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to stand in line for the chance to sit in the courtroom, and then offered their instant expertise to reporters waiting outside. Even the most local of news outlets posted breaking alerts about her trial.
After the jury acquitted her last week of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse, Twitter and Facebook exploded with verdicts to the contrary. The judge and defense attorneys say they're concerned about death threats against Casey and the jurors. Because, by golly, that's how you honor a child who's been murdered.
Soon enough, we will forget about Casey Anthony, but not because we'll turn our collective concern to the 15 million children living in poverty, the 17 million who go hungry or the 8.1 million who are uninsured. We like to focus on one at a time.
In 2009, the year after Caylee Anthony was killed, 1,348 more children were murdered in America.
Here's a partial list of the FBI's breakdown:
Ages 1 to 4: 298
Ages 5 to 8: 72
Ages 9 to 12: 71
Ages 13 to 16: 400
Who among us can name even one?