Thus far, in 2016, four children in the United States were killed by lightning strike. Gun violence claimed the lives of 637 children under the age of 11. From 2002 to 2011, more than 9,000 American children under 12 died in car crashes. In 2014, 425 children between 10 and 14 committed suicide. Unintentional resulted in the deaths of 2,696 children under 14. There were 643 children who died from homicide. And according to the CDC, “Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger.”
In 2016, no American children were killed by terrorists. Prior to this, one child died in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The year before that no children were killed by terrorism in the United States, and the year before that, and the year before that, all the way back to 2001, when eight children were killed on 9/11. Before that, 19 died in the Oklahoma City bombings on April 19, 1995.
In an age when we argue about the number of Syrian refugees to admit to our country, we had best keep these numbers in mind. Children die in Aleppo at an alarming rate, a terrifying rate, from bombs and guns. And yet we’re too worried about our own children to save them.
The vetting process for refugees is stringent. According to the White House, it takes nine steps, including numerous opportunities to trigger rechecks, for a refugee to be allowed into the United States. And after entry, they’re required to obtain a green card, which triggers another set of checks. Only 1% of global refugees qualify for entry into the United States. The risk of a terrorist passing through that tiny sieve is surely less than the risk of a child drowning, or even dying by homicide.
We focus on the extraordinary risk, rather than the common one. No TV news runs spots on the alarming rate of child drowning. They don’t run bloody footage of the high number of children killed in car crashes. Instead, we pay attention to the extraordinary: the shark attacks, the mass shootings, the risk of terrorism. These are the domain of the media. The domain of government PSAs, on the other hand, lie in the mundane deaths, the admonitions to wear a seatbelt and vaccinate your child.
Risk perception, according to “The Political Science of Risk Perception,” “has frequently been invoked as evidence for a distinction between ‘actual’ risk as measured by experts and ‘perceived’ risk as experienced by laypersons.” Basically, regular people perceive risk differently, as “a distorted version of actual risk, shaped by the ignorance, prior beliefs, and subjective personal experiences of non-experts.” So with Fox News blaring about radicalized Muslims hiding among Syrian refugees, and Donald Trump Jr. comparing them to poisoned Skittles, people perceive them as more of an actual threat to their toddler than the neighborhood pool.
We’ve been primed to think of Arabs as terrorists, thanks to a media (and president-elect) that demonizes and vilifies them. And that priming makes us think, as Jason Miller, communications director of Trump’s transition team, said, “The national registry of foreign visitors from countries with high terrorism activity that was in place during the Bush and Obama administrations gave intelligence and law enforcement communities additional tools to keep our country safe, but the President-elect plans on releasing his own vetting policies after he is sworn in.”
This assumes all terror comes from countries where terrorism is rampant, when the 9/11 hijackers were from U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia. While we have had a few lone wolf operatives, including the Orlando shooter, we’ve had nothing on the scale of 9/11.
In August, the United States admitted its 10,000th Syrian refugee, a goal set last fall by President Obama amid pressure from world leaders over the global migration crisis. They settled in Atlanta and Kansas City, Missouri, and Louisville, in Denver and San Diego and Elizabeth, New Jersey. We’ve now accepted almost 12,000 refugees in the past five years since the civil war began. They’re added to the 150,000 Syrians that already live here.
The death of American children at the hands of these refugees remains at zero.
Worry about the pool. Worry about that unlocked gun. Worry about your ex-boyfriend. Worry that your kid’s car seat isn’t properly installed or that they aren’t wearing a seatbelt. Worry that you won’t carry your pregnancy to term (the second leading cause of death in infants) or childhood cancer (the third or fourth leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14, depending on the age bracket). Don’t worry about Syrian refugees blowing you up.
Worry about them getting blown up before they get here.