Where are our priorities?

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By Zac Oakes


What if I told you that more than a thousand people recently died on American soil due to a natural disaster? 

You would probably be shocked, right? Disturbed? You would probably be wondering why it hasn’t been all over the news, why there weren’t massive operations to provide relief to those affected. 

That scenario is playing out in Puerto Rico right now, as more accurate death tolls continue to be compiled from when Hurricane Maria devastated the United States territory. The official death count remains at 64, but the actual estimates could be as high as approximately 4,000. 

Let’s be clear about something though: if a natural disaster of this proportion happened in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Texas, or anywhere else in the mainland United States, it would still be on the news every single night, even eight months after the event. 

Remember the response to Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, all of which caused massive destruction and devastation to American citizens? The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens too, and it is incredibly sad that the massive devastation that was inflicted upon them hasn’t received anywhere near the same response and attention. 

I understand why this has occurred, even though I don’t necessarily agree. Puerto Rico is far from the mainland U.S., so it is kind of forgotten. A poll of 2,200 American adults found that only 54 percent of respondents knew that people born in Puerto Rico are actually American citizens. 

There has also been some local mismanagement, although that probably shouldn’t be a total detriment to people caring about what is going on there. The island’s bankruptcy has also been a contributing factor to the situation. 

There was also the whole “you people should be proud” comments by President Trump for the low official death toll at the time (16) as opposed to the thousands that died in Hurricane Katrina. 

“Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” Trump said on his visit. “You can be very proud.” 

That quote looks a whole lot worse now with the new information. While he was criticized at the time for his comments, the actual number of deaths related to the hurricane was still being looked at during that time. 

As I read more about this situation, it really occurred to me that we as Americans have lost our sense of what matters when it comes to life — people. 

People seem to care more about a wedding 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, waking up at 3 a.m. to watch, than a thousand American citizens dying from a natural disaster and the lack of resources that resulted from it, or the recent story that came out in which the United States Government has lost track of approximately 1,000 migrant children, many of which could be in the hands of human traffickers. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in the Royal Wedding and don’t fully understand the intrigue of it, but to each their own. If that’s what you like, fine by me. 

However, I have a problem when incredibly important issues don’t receive attention because the large networks know that mostly trivial matters will draw more attention, clicks, and views than American citizens in Puerto Rico dying. 

In this life, we should have a goal to love and care for others. If you’re a Christian, that is one of the major tenets of our faith: love others as you love yourself. 

When people are dying and terrible injustices are taking place before our very eyes and we continue to turn our heads and pretend it doesn’t exist or try to justify it, I can’t help but wonder where our priorities stand.