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The rich are different but they shouldn't be

October 26, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
There's a horrible story out of New York City's Upper West Side last night about a nanny for a well-to-do family who is suspected of stabbing to death her 6- and 2-year-old charges and then turning the knife on herself. The children's mother found them when she returned home with her 3-year-old from the little girl's swimming lesson. The nanny was arrested on suspicion of murder and is in critical but stable condition at a hospital.

I read it at the same time as I read an account of Douglas Kennedy's trial in Mount Kisco, N.Y. this week on misdemeanor assult charges for allegedly kicking a nurse in the stomach when she tried to stop him from carrying his 2-day-old son outside a hospital for some fresh air in January. The nurses said Kennedy violated numerous hospital policies; he said he was instinctively protecting his son from being grabbed out of his arms. According to different news accounts, Kennedy, the youngest son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, allegedly asked a security guard "Do you know who I am?"

The stories are completely unrelated here except for taking place in the same state, being in the news during the same week, and involving wealthy New Yorkers, but the coverage is a reminder of just how different the rich are from the average American.

Most online comments on stories about the Kennedy trial seem to be variations on a theme: rich people in general and Kennedys in particular don't seem to think the rules apply to them. If this had been Average Joe Kennedy, he'd still be in jail and social workers would still be inspecting that family with a fine tooth comb. I suspect there's more than a whiff of assumed privilege in this case, though I do think the nurses likely escalated the conflict and don't think hospital policies are necessarily enshrined in the law. Kennedy asked for a bench trial, presumably because his lawyer figured that a jury of his peers might echo the comments in online forums.

The parents of the murdered Upper West Side children live in a building where one apartment rents for $10,000 per month and most of the other parents are wealthy and employ nannies. The father of the children, Kevin Krim, is an executive with CNBC. One of his last Tweets on Twitter referenced the Lord of the Rings. He comes across as a witty, personable guy. He was away on a business trip and was met last night at the airport by police who informed him that two of his kids are dead. The mother of the children, Marina Krim, apparently does not work outside the home. Mrs. Krim maintained a detailed blog filled with pictures of her three beautiful younsters and stories about their family life. The New York Times reported that the Krims had even visited their nanny's home and family in the Dominican Republic for a week.

Yoselyn Ortega, the 50-year-old nanny, is in critical but stable condition at a hospital and under arrest. If Ortega doesn't survive, it doesn't sound like anyone will have any idea what happened or why she might have done such a thing. The family doesn't seem to have had an inkling anything was wrong.

The neighbors are in shock that such a thing could happen there. I am terribly sorry for the family and the murders of the children and I don't doubt that this story merits coverage, but I was also reminded of how many other kids are killed in the country every year without much attention being paid. The murders of rich, white children with their own blog filled with photos of them picking pumpkins merits front-page attention; the murder of an inner city child or a child from a blue collar background at the hands of her babysitter may rate a sad shrug from the public and a paragraph on an inside page of The New York Times. The death of any child is a tragedy and I think more attention ought to be paid.

Of course there have always been differences between rich and poor in the United States. A rich guy with a good lawyer has always been able to get away with more than a poor guy who did the same thing. But, given the widening of the income gap between rich and poor in this country and the endless recession, I do worry that some of those disparities are only going to get worse. The last thing we need is a country ruled by an elite who think the rules that apply to the rest of us shouldn't apply to them.

 
 

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