The Washington Post

Shifting blame for deaths


I read with concern the July 22 Metro article “Woman riding bicycle to work dies after being struck by truck,” about the death of Shawn O’donnell in a traffic incident in Foggy Bottom. The avoidable death of a cyclist is upsetting enough, but I was also confused and dismayed by the language from the police department’s news release on the incident suggesting that Ms. O’donnell “attempted to ride ahead of ” a truck making a right turn.

This incident might be described as occurring when the driver failed to check before turning. This odd, victim-blaming language was echoed in the police department’s release on the July 15 death of Michael Gordon, who was struck and killed by a dump truck in Shaw. That release noted that the truck, proceeding north on Seventh Street, had a green light when it made a right turn onto Rhode Island Avenue and struck Mr. Gordon in the crosswalk. The green light for northbound traffic on Seventh Street, of course, does not relieve the driver of the obligation to ensure that the crosswalk is clear before making a turn. Pedestrian traffic in the crosswalk would have a “walk” sign. This odd point of emphasis was compounded by the release’s inversion of the most logical descriptio­n of the incident, in characteri­zing Mr. Gordon as having “struck the passenger side of the dump truck.”

My concern is that these questionab­le communicat­ions choices are not merely semantic but are reflective of an official police attitude toward traffic issues that goes a long way toward explaining why walking and bicycling in D.C. are so unsafe.

Quentin Buckholz, Washington

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