It’s been almost two months since Elaine Herzberg died. I didn’t know her, but I think about her often.
Elaine was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber near Tempe Town Lake in March. According to her Facebook page, she graduated from Apache Junction High School and lived in Mesa. She liked Science TV and professional wrestling, especially the homegrown stars of the WWE, the Bella Twins. She didn’t have many “friends,” by Facebook standards, but she tried to stay positive and hold herself accountable. It’s clear she was self-aware.
It took me just a couple minutes to learn all of that about Elaine.
Phoenix New Times and the Arizona Republic, who have reported very little about the nearly 50 years of life Elaine Herzberg lived, must lack the resources that I have. Like, the internet. All they apparently know about her—besides her death and purported homelessness—is that Elaine had a criminal record and a period of incarceration related to drug charges.
That’s it. There’s not a single mention that Elaine was a proud Prospector, Class of ’85, or that her Facebook page hinted at a wickedly dark sense of humor. And in the two months following the fatal accident, the Republic has published three follow-up stories, New Times has published nine, and none of them tells us anything more about Elaine Herzberg.
Would we know more about Elaine if she hadn’t been incarcerated? Would New Times or the Republic or anyone in the mainstream media have written more about her if she lived in an affluent neighborhood or come from a “good family” or worked in a position of quasi-authority? How much more would Elaine Herzberg had to have done during her life to overcome a drug conviction, to be humanized in death as the victim of a fatal accident?
The lives of the formerly incarcerated are the stories the media won’t tell, and Elaine’s is just the latest example of their complicity in stigmatizing people who are system-involved long after they’ve done their time. If journalists won’t tell their stories, it’s up to the rest of us to do the best that we can.
To truly memorialize Elaine Herzberg, I’m asking that, if you knew Elaine, leave a comment and help tell her story. Because it appears no one in the mainstream media will.
—Joe Watson, AFSC-AZ Research & Social Media Consultant