In 2011, New York City subway trains hit 147 people. That's a 15 percent increase over 2010. Of those incidents, 50 proved fatal.
The fact of subway deaths was brought dramatically into focus this week when 58-year-old Queens man Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the 49th Street tracks by homeless man Naeem Davis on Monday. According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, more than a minute - and possibly as long as 90 seconds - elapsed before the train hit him.
Han's final moments were captured in a controversial New York Post front-page photo on Tuesday. The photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, claims he got the shot only incidentally, as he was firing off his camera in hopes the flash would attract the attention of the train driver.
There are an innumerable amount of ethically messy scenarios captured on camera. One example is Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a starving Sudanese child - many say he should have put down his camera and helped the toddler. And there's Richard Drew's 9/11 photograph "Falling Man" - many argue it should not have been published given the man's inescapable death.
When I looked at the New York Post cover Tuesday, I considered the basics: the empty platform, the blurred face of the train driver, the man who appears terrifyingly aware of what will happen next.
The first question was of Abbasi's responsibilities. If he could fire off numerous exposures, couldn't he have just as easily grabbed a hold of Han? But instead his camera was the first thing he reached for, perhaps due to our generation's Instagram reflex.
This sparked a debate in and of itself: When a news photographer witnesses a tragedy in the making, is his obligation to intervene or to document it?
Personally it's difficult to offer an opinion on Abbasi's actions at the scene - I don't know enough about the particulars: How far away was he? What if enraged Davis was still nearby? What if Han accidently pulled him onto the tracks too?
The next question was about the New York Post's right to publish the photo. The headline on Tuesday's paper read: "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die." It's clear that the photo was intended to shock rather than to edify. The Post's headline writers invited bad publicity with such disarming, pornographic earnestness that the headline may as well have read, "There's no way you can't buy today's paper."
There are similar aspects of Abbasi's story. For example, he denied CNN an interview because they wouldn't pay him.
I think the photo should have been published - newspapers have an obligation to publish images, even horrifying ones, that might affect public debate over important issues. Consider photos of killed U.S. soldiers or drowned bodies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those pictures ran because people could learn from them and make better decisions for society.
But I don't think the photo should have been published in this manner. Taking into consideration Han's family, there should have been a more tasteful presentation, one that honored his life and paid attentiveness to the terror of the situation.
The New York Post is not known for its subtlety in taste decisions. But I think they've stooped to a new low. It's disgusting and disheartening: the amount of capital-driven sensationalism and lack of compassion in our society.