Politics should not follow death.
After the sudden death of 26-year-old journalist and former colleague of mine Bre Payton in late December, the Internet — as it often does — turned ugly. It dragged in politics, personal vendettas, and false information labeling Bre an “anti-vaxxer” to turn a tragedy into a callous punch line. And although the majority of responses to tweets from mourning colleagues and friends were empathetic, plenty still ran in the vein of “good riddance.”
This is unacceptable.
Bre died of H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, and possibly meningitis, according to a statement from her family. People took this information and paired it with an old sarcastic tweet from Bre that, when misinterpreted, cast her as anti-vaccine. Except she never spoke out against vaccinations, according to Ben Domenech, founder of The Federalist and Bre’s colleague. People looking for a bad-faith reading simply took a tongue-in-cheek tweet and ran.
If it had been only Twitter trolls and those with little dignity or decency using her death as fodder for politics, that would be one thing. But even The Federalist, her home publication, published a piece by Emily Domenech contrasting Bre’s life to that of recently-elected New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While it was most likely meant as a tribute to Bre, it felt sullied by what seemed like an opportunistic pot-shot at a disliked politician. It is possible to say nice things about one person without dragging another down.
Bre acted as a mentor not only to me, but to other members of The Hillsdale Collegian’s editorial staff. She served as a fellow on a 2018 trip to Israel through The Philos Project. On this trip, we got to see her selflessness, wisdom, and joy. I also had the opportunity to work with her in 2016 at The Federalist. Although I was only an intern, she took time to get to know me and guide me through my time with the publication. I consistently saw the happiness she brought to other people.
Bre’s death should not have been politicized. Her death was untimely, sudden, and unpreventable. She was not slaughtered by a gunman. She was not a victim of a negligent policy. Her death was the byproduct of a medical fluke and should have been treated as such.
This will happen again. It will happen to someone on the “opposite” side. But politics has no place in the graveyard; it has no place in grief. Compassion for all death, all grieving, all struggling, regardless of politics, is necessary and right.
When it happens, be kind. Protect the hurting.
It’s what Bre would have done.
Jordyn Pair is a senior studying Sociology and Rhetoric and Public Address.