LLOYD GRAY: A rough week of stark images

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Once or twice a year, Sen. Roger Wicker will drop in for a visit to the Tupelo Kiwanis Club, taking a seat at a table, chatting it up with members and listening to someone else give a speech.
He was there Friday, but this time it was different. He got the usual club welcome, and there were even jokes about his presence in the national news over the last few days. But a federal agent stood watch, and when Wicker left the Summit Center parking lot he was riding in a car not his own followed by a couple of black SUVs on to North Gloster.
A security detail accompanying the senator was anything but the norm in this setting. It was a local symbol of the bizarre, tragic and heart-wrenching events that have riveted the nation’s attention the last few days.
While the poisoned, threatening letters allegedly sent by a Northeast Mississippi man to President Obama, Sen. Wicker and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland had no connection, technically speaking, to the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt, they both were part of the same reality jolt in a week unlike no other since that September in 2001.
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The prevalence of social media these days adds a different dimension to such events when they unfold. Everyone immediately has access to the ruminations and rants of people suspected of high-profile crimes, which was certainly the case with the Boston bombing suspects and the accused letter writer.
The first thing our reporters did Wednesday evening when it became known that Kevin Curtis had been arrested in our region by the FBI in the poisoned letters case was to search social media sites and online message boards to find clues about who he is and what he thinks. And those clues were there in spades.
The same held true for national media reporters as they tried to unravel the stories of the alleged Boston bombers. We now create images and impressions of ourselves for the world to see and analyze in an instant.
But the story that directed national attention our way had elements a bit different than the usual suspects, so to speak. How often have we heard, “We would never have suspected,” or, “There was never any sign that he was troubled or might do something like that” when arrests are made in high-profile cases.
Yet in this case, numerous people we interviewed, most of them unwilling to allow their names to be used for publication, said they weren’t shocked because of their past experiences of erratic, irrational and aggressive behavior by Curtis who, by his family’s own testimony, has a bipolar disorder and hasn’t gotten sufficient help.
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The Boston bombing images, shown over and over on television and online, hadn’t lost their shock value even as this horrific week – which included a Texas disaster with a huge human toll that was, incredibly, overshadowed by other events – came to an end with great relief when the suspect was captured.
We have to resist the temptation not to be consumed by those images. To be horrified and at the same time determined not to be fearful is difficult.
Getting mesmerized and overly fascinated by it all is a risk, too. Most of us succumbed to that last week, understandably glued to the latest news updates. That kind of obsession, extended over time, can artificially enlarge such events’ impact on our lives.
Living as we normally live is the best offense against terrorists. Paralyzing fear or excessive preoccupation are two sides of the same white flag of surrender.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.