I didn’t mind the blood at first: the red streaks and puddles that sometimes remained in the street once the corpses were hauled away. Nor did I mind the screams of the mothers who rushed to crime scenes only to find their sons lifeless and bullet-pocked behind police tape.
None of what I saw in my first years as a crime journalist bothered me much. I couldn’t allow it to. For crime reporting is mostly a test of how much suffering you can witness—the grief of families, the trauma of survivors —without letting it affect your ability to file on deadline. Those who can stomach the work might make a career in breaking news. Those who can’t usually beg off the beat within a few months.
I worked in the daily newspaper business for 15 years, covering multiple acts of violence and trauma each week. For the Miami Herald, I chronicled a seemingly endless spate of late-night shootings and robberies. For the Palm Beach Post, I spent weeks at a posh Boca Raton mall trying to get inside the mind of a serial killer who had used the property as a hunting ground. And for the New York Daily News and Newsday, I worked hundreds of scenes: homicides, hold-ups, stabbings, drive-bys, beatings, drug beefs, gang shootings, murder-suicides, cop killings, fatal fires, and horrific car wrecks. I commonly saw corpses, and routinely interviewed traumatised survivors of violence.
Then, a few years ago, the work began to take a toll. I started having vivid nightmares, developed insomnia, and exhausted myself daily attempting to monitor every inch of my surroundings, so that whatever horrors fate held in store for my community that day would not be visited upon me.
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