barbarahowardweb.gifLately, the political candidates have been using the military and civilian body count in Iraq as a rallying cry against the Bush administration and Republicans as a whole.

But do they really care about these deaths or is it just because they happened in Iraq?  And do they feel the same outrage about the Americans who are killed as victims of violent crime in their own country?

It’s sad to say, but I’ve learned that these deaths usually only count during a campaign year. 

I remember about 10 years ago when the Urban League of Greater Miami waged war on criminals who were killing innocent black women and children in an area so well known for its high body count that it was called “the death zone.”

The Urban League’s president contacted the governor, and all the local, state and congressional politicians for that district – all Democrats – to no avail.   They all ignored him. 

He wanted the governor to declare the area a disaster zone so that federal funds could be used for much needed services, such as more police protection, more after-school programs, more job training, etc.

The Urban League held a march around the death zone to bring attention to the problem.  The volunteers and media showed up.  Yet only one of the politicians who supposedly represented that area showed up – and he was on his way to jail on corruption charges.

There was, however, a surprise volunteer who showed up with his son to express his concern.  Several years later he would become only the second Republican governor in the state of Florida in 100 years.

The Democratic elected officials continued to ignore the Urban League’s efforts to stop the violence until years later, when a candidate running for Congress wanted to make the death zone a campaign issue.  Of course, the death toll had more than doubled by that time.

So let’s put the body count in Iraq into perspective related to the body count at home. 

The Associated Press reports that “as of Sunday, April 13, 2008, at least 4,032 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.”

That number has been used to denounce the war in Iraq.  Yet there has been a war at home that no one wanted to speak about – until now.

As Hillary Clinton campaigned in West Philly last week, she announced an ambitious $4-billion-a-year anti-crime plan that she says will cut the murder rate in big cities by half and stated that “crime was reduced to historic lows during her husband’s presidency.” 

Well, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI Report on Crime in the United States, there were 155,393 murders during Bill Clinton’s presidency, only approximately 18,000 murders less than the prior eight years.  Historic – I think not.

Since Bush became president, there have been approximately 125,000 murders, or 25,000 less than the Clinton years.  So who’s fooling whom?

The truth of the matter is that there have been almost four times as many deaths in the U.S. per year as there have been in Iraq for the past five. 

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Clinton supporter, said his people were “more worried about Al-Gangster than al-Qaeda.” 

So where’s the outrage?  Drowned by the deafening silence.

It seems like the body count of Americans only matters during a campaign year  when the opposite party is in the White House.

Where was Senator Clinton’s anti-crime plan when she wasn’t running for the presidency?  Why is there more outrage at soldiers killed in Iraq than civilians killed in America?

Maybe because the bottom line is to get votes.  So the strategy is to make voters condemn the White House for deaths in Iraq. 

But whom are you going to blame for the deaths in the U.S.?  No one. Unless blaming someone else will help you win the highest office in the land. 

Because deaths in the U.S. seem to mean nothing more than a sound bite, particularly when you can make voters forget that you were missing in action when you should have won the war.

Barbara Howard is president of Barbara Howard & Associates and the Florida state chair for C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality).

Barbara Howard •