DEEPLY DISTURBING IMAGES IN RIVERSIDE PARK AND VERDI SQUARE

verdi square
The benches at Verdi Square, near where a dead body was found a few weeks ago.

In the past couple of months, we have been contacted by readers on three occasions after they saw dead bodies in various parts of the neighborhood. We called authorities, and did not hear of foul play in each instance — the understanding in these cases is generally that the deceased died of natural causes or that they died of suicide.

The most recent of these incidents came today — a reader sent a photo of a body (covered by a tarp) that had washed ashore around 130th street and Riverside Park. When we called police the lieutenant said they were still waiting on information, and added something that sent a brief chill up my spine: “It’s not Avonte.” Avonte Oquendo is the autistic 14-year old who has been missing since October 4. Police are still looking for him.

A few weeks ago, we had also heard from two people about a dead body on one of the benches in Verdi Square. In a blog post about seeing the body, one local wrote: “It made me sad to think that this person died alone, in the middle of a bustling city and no one would be showing up to claim the body…I will pass that bench a thousand times I’m sure, and I will always remember.”

We heard from an officer that the person died of natural causes but police headquarters had no other information. A few weeks before that, we had received another photo of a covered body that had washed up on the Hudson around 96th street.

We don’t feel right posting these pictures, and it’s not clear how much people need or want to know about these incidents. People who jump off of the George Washington Bridge do sometimes end up coming to shore around the Upper West Side, and their tragic stories are usually unconnected to our neighborhood. But suicide is a public problem, and articles about it can affect policy — for instance, coverage of suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge has ignited a public policy debate over whether a gate should be put up to dissuade jumpers. We tend to think suicides on train tracks are public events, and ought to be covered. Also, while police are usually right about whether there was foul play involved, they aren’t always.

We’re curious then, to learn if readers want to know about these issues, and if they think that photos of the bodies do provide any public good. Please let us know your thoughts (in constructive terms) in the comments.

NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Eric Siegel says:

      No purpose is served by the posting of these images. The stories are tragic, and need to be told, but keeping these images off the internet … where heaven knows what they will be used for … preserves at least a tiny shred of respect and dignity for the dead.

    2. karen says:

      It’s clear that your instincts are guiding you on the path of compassion and empathy. Stay there. Thank you for requesting input and for NOT posting them.

      These stories are, indeed, tragic on their own. Posting photos does NO good, serves NO purpose other than sensationalizing the stories of people whose lives have sadly ended. Respect and dignity for them and their loved ones should be a priority.

      My guiding question would be: would you want to see posted photos of your dead loved one in a story on the internet? I sure hope not.

    3. R.G. says:

      Agree with everyone here. Dead bodies in public spaces are a public issues and people in the neighborhood should be aware, but there’s no reason to publish photos of the bodies.

      • jerry says:

        R.G. says it perfectly. No photos, please, but relevant information regarding our community should be reported. Ever wake up wondering about those sirens in the night?

    4. Helene says:

      Agree with all the above….no need for pictures. I got chills just reading about these unfortunate souls.

    5. David says:

      Please post the images if your objective is to make money and becoming a trashy example of modern american values is an unimportant consequence. If you desire to remain special, don’t.

    6. West Sider says:

      We have no intention of posting the images. Thanks for the feedback.
      West Side Rag editors

    7. Pumpkinpie says:

      I certainly would like to know about the issues as part of the social fabric of our neighborhood but there is no need to show the photos. The circumstances are graphic & tragic enough without photographic evidence, and if a person was unfortunate enough to die alone on a public bench it seems somewhat disrespectful or undignified to them and their survivors to document that pictorially. On a perhaps related topic, I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over 40 years and been through various cycles of decay, growth, gentrification, etc. In the last 6 months to a year or so I seem to see a very noticeable uptick in visible homeless people (young and old). I don’t think I’m imagining this increase.

      • Ellen says:

        Over the past several years, there do seem to be more homeless people on the West Side. And in the last year or so, there seem to be quite a few young (under age 30) people (possibly from out of town?)

    8. LFS says:

      I also saw the police investigating the deceased person in Verdi Sq. a few weeks ago and was upset to realize that I had also walked past that exact place only an hour beforehand, and had not noticed the person. Were they alive or had they already died? Could I have rendered assistance? I think that too many of us walk without really “seeing”. I think about it every time I walk past, and will continue to do so.

      I checked local news for a few days afterwards to see if it had been reported but didn’t see anything – so assumed that the death was considered “natural”.

      For me, natural deaths, or bodies in the river, don’t need to be reported but I am interested in incidences of crime from the perspective of being aware of potentially dangerous locations or activities.

      I definitely do not want to see photos.

    9. k says:

      I agree – definitely want to hear these stories, definitely don’t want to see the pictures.

    10. LFS says:

      To add to my comment above – you DO raise an interesting point about reporting of suicide and deaths of the homeless raising social awareness of depression, mental health, addiction and homeless issues and perhaps creating a groundswell of public support for more services for affected people in the local area.
      From that perspective a short note reporting these occurrences, and including links to local services so that readers could volunteer/donate or refer people they meet, could be warranted.

    11. Sue Kantor says:

      Please do not post these pictures, allow these people to have their last bit of dignity salvaged. There seems to be no harm in telling the UWS that these sad events have occurred.

    12. James says:

      I think the only reason to post the pictures would be to raise awareness. The more people who see the photos (should they choose to view them), the greater the possibility that someone could help put together a backstory on the person or perhaps even identify that person so that family members could be found or notified. Posting the pictures with a clear warning – so that those who do not want to see, do not have to see – with the intent of doing so such that it increases the possibility of tracking down someone who knows the recently departed would be acceptable in my mind.

      I understand the other side of the argument, but all of us posting here, even maybe one of us could recognize or identify the person. It could be someone we know or at least knew of and if that helps identify the person, then I think they should be published with a strong disclaimer and warning in advance of clicking on them.

    13. Nydia Leaf says:

      Thank you for this information and for requesting readers’ reactions. It’s crucial that we know what is happening in our area and city – not just fall foliage in Central Park.

      Some people today experience depths of misery that others of us are spared. So give us the info – we don’t need photos of the bodies but thank you for informing us.

    14. Jack St Mary says:

      No photos are needed of these tragic deaths no matter the sensationalism of other media. Stay on message and continue down the high road. Report the facts and comment as you have with compassion and honesty. Leave the leering to the tabloids.

    15. Alice says:

      Please report these incidents, but thank you for not posting the pictures. It wold be horrendous for family members to see these images and horrifying for most of the rest of us.

    16. llljr says:

      No photos please. And also, no names! Do the relatives and other loved ones agree to have names published? What about their privacy? No one will respect their privacy if newspapers do not. So please set an example, and respect everyone’s privacy. It does no one any good to know the name of the person/s involved. If an acquaintance should really know, then it that acquaintance would know about it from the proper channels of friends/family/other contacts, and does not need to find out thru the news.

    17. denton says:

      As a serious long-standing amateur photog, and student of the history of photography, my answer would be ‘it depends’. In this case, it doesn’t seem as though you should, since the photographs don’t convey much in the way of useful information. For example, when recalling the debate about the Syrian massacre photos the other day, where we had some armed men standing guard over some shackled men, we were told that after the photograph was taken, they were murdered. We are forced to take the photographer’s word for it, since we can no longer publish the photograph that proves it. Here we have, not a dead body, but a tarp that is alleged to be covering up a dead body. Not much of a photo and not worth the debate that would ensue.

      Having said that, I am very concerned about what we are whitewashing out of existence in the name of ‘respect’. When Weegee and Jill Freedman and others were doing their work no one spoke of respect for the dead or their murderers. Now their images are in museums when they were only destined for the newspapers of their day. Maybe we’re a better country for this, but I’m not sure.

      Look at the sorry state of war photography. You’d think that in our current environment of all war all the time, wars are fought by computers, not people who suffer terrible injuries and die from them. Its not even allowable to publish a photo of a coffin. Compare this lack to what came out of Vietnam, the girl running down the road with napalm burns, the execution of a suspected Vietcong in the street (Eddie Adams), the girl grieving at the body of a Kent State murder victim. (The NYT just discussed this, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/arts/design/images-of-the-vietnam-war-that-defined-an-era.html )

      We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we should no longer see these kinds of images. There’s a reason that we SHOULD see them, however, no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. It reminds us that everything has a cost. It reminds us of what the costs of war are, and it leads to questions about whether those costs are worth it. Naturally, our government figured this out some time ago, which is why, in an age of digicams and phones, there are no war photos.

      Similarly, if a homeless person dies unnoticed in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country in the world, it shows that our social and tax policies may have a cost also. The _right_ kind of photo in our visual society may contribute in a small way to debating those costs, no matter what side of the debate you are on. I agree that the photo of a tarp is not the right kind of photo.

      The same holds true of the mentally ill who jump off bridges. What are the costs of mental treatment or not having the same?

      So I say to publish any photo that would continue or start a debate about the issues we face as a city and as a neighborhood. Those photos may be few and far between, and only you will know when you are presented with the right image. Today is obviously not that day and these are not those images.

      I mean, in the grand scheme of things, is it really important that someone plopped a new floor on a brownstone today?

    18. Bette says:

      Stick to your current position. Definitely no posting of photos. I appreciate your openness in soliciting readers’ opinions. It seems that most of your readers are in accord with the way you’re approaching coverage of these sad events.

    19. Jeff says:

      As a journalist, I’ll echo No. 17/Denton and say that while there usually will not be a good reason to post the pictures, you shouldn’t have a blanket policy against doing so, because it might be appropriate in rare instances.

      Also, an image of a body covered in tarp does not really implicate someone’s dignity, and to reiterate what many others said, don’t let the lack of a photo keep you from covering news – I saw a body at Verdi a couple weeks ago, was saddened, and am glad you’re calling attention to this.

    20. Bonnie Rice says:

      I have empathy for people who need money. If you walk from 96th Street to 72 St on Broadway you actually feel bombarded by multiple people asking for money or food. The neighborhood has changes drastically in the last six years.
      It’s a sad sign of the times.

    21. jules says:

      The square is something and nothing. It is a sordid, dirty.. in the summer, spilt drinks attract multiple flies, bins are overflowing and many sad looking people sit there. I’m not surprised people use it to kill themselves. What a shame.