[UPDATE 6/8] In the Wake of Coverage of David Lawson’s Death, Local NAACP Calls for ‘Removal of Public Commentary’ on News Sites
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To Humboldt County Media Outlets:
In the aftermath of the senseless and tragic killing of David Josiah Lawson, the Eureka Branch of the NAACP has been monitoring not only the criminal case as the investigation progresses, but local area media coverage as well. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of an enlightened society in his “I Have a Dream” speech. All these years later, that dream seems as far away as it has ever been and, for people of color living in Humboldt County, their experience is more fittingly associated with a nightmare. As our community endeavors to heal and make sense of what has occurred, we have been subjected to the senseless, bigoted, crass, cruel, disgusting, uneducated, rants of those who skulk in anonymity, yet are given a prominent voice by many of our local Humboldt County media outlets. Lamentably, those voices have become the voice of Humboldt County; tragically, they have come to define us.
Since current practices embolden and empower hatred and acts of hatred, and due to a demonstrated unwillingness or inability to appropriately monitor public comments made in the wake of media stories posted online, the Eureka Branch of the NAACP calls upon all local media to serve as an example of the ideals exemplified by Dr. King by immediately discontinuing the practice of posting public commentary associated with media coverage. While the concept may have a justifiable or even laudable foundation, many Humboldt County media outlets have proven incapable of demonstrating responsibility or good citizenship in this regard. We are prepared to offer the following suggestions as best practices for a more equitable and inclusive alternative to current practices:
• Outright removal of public commentary altogether.
• Strict monitoring or vetting of posts before they are viewed publicly.
• The option to post only if the identity of the poster has been confirmed through a process.
Furthermore, the Eureka Branch of the NAACP calls upon Humboldt County media outlets to take a highly visible leadership role in showcasing the very best of our community and the diversity we collectively embrace while simultaneously shining a light of truth into those dark corners where hatred and bigotry still clearly exists.
As we work collaboratively towards the goals of peace, equality, and justice, we are calling upon you to make Humboldt County an intolerable place for those who believe in and demonstrate intolerance. We strongly urge you to publicly take these affirmative and visible steps to ensure that that violence, bigotry, and hatred will not be tolerated in any form.
UPDATE June 8: The following letter was sent to us from NAACP:
I am the Media Coordinator of the Eureka Branch of the NAACP. As one of the members of the executive board, I’d like to clarify a few things. In the wake of the recent murder of HSU student, David Josiah Lawson, the presence of vitriolic speech has become most prevalent on some of our local media outlets. The majority of the executive board collectively drafted a letter asking media organizations to examine and possibly change their policies related to the comment sections on their websites, social media pages, etc.
This letter was in no way suggesting censorship of our citizens. Additionally, our stance is not to infringe on anyone’s 1st Amendment rights. The letter simply suggests that the moderators of the local media sites use care in monitoring of the comments section. Our branch president, Liz Smith, stated on a local blogger’s website she did not agree with the body of the letter. She also expressed she felt recent correspondence from our 1st vice president, Donn Peterson, asked for her resignation. Donn Peterson’s personal letter to President Smith was not suggesting she resign, but instead expressed continued support. President Smith has not communicated with members of the executive board in several weeks. Our records reflect attempts to schedule meetings over the last two months, all to no avail. The executive board will continue to be of service to the region, despite the absence of our president. According to the national NAACP bylaws for local units, the role of the vice president is:
To perform all the duties of the President during periods of absence or disability. In case of more than one Vice-President, they will be designated as first, second, third, etc. and shall perform their duties according to their numerical rank. (2014 Bylaws for Units – page 33)
With that, our 1st vice president, Donn Peterson, offers a supplemental statement here:
My name is Donn Peterson and I am an officer with the Eureka Branch of the NAACP. The letter itself was discussed in public meetings and was a collaboration of the thoughts and ideas shared in those meetings by members and visitors alike. I signed the letter on behalf of the organization and, if the signature was illegible, I accept responsibility for that. The letter does not call for censorship, nor does the NAACP. That’s clear despite the contrived interpretations represented here and elsewhere. What the letter does call for is ownership of what appears on our Humboldt County local media websites. When people post comments that marginalize members of our community, that matters and it is a reflection of our community whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not. The stewards of those sites should be held accountable for what appears on them. The fact that one local media outlet suspended public comment in the wake of the Lawson homicide is indicative of at least a loose sense of that responsibility. For those of you who feel it’s your “right” to spew anonymously at the conclusion of news stories and that the request of the NAACP to exercise responsibility in that practice somehow constitutes a violation of free speech, I would ask you to go to the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, or any other respected publication. None seems to be experiencing a contravention of their first amendment rights by excluding such practices and it’s noteworthy that the NAACP did not in any way suggest regulation of journalistic freedom.
On a personal note…
I own what I say, refuse to lurk in anonymity, enjoy dialogue and differing points of view, and would love to see you and talk about… whatever. I’ll even buy the coffee.
If you are reading this, I am inviting you to figuratively walk in someone else’s shoes just for a moment. Imagine your loved one going to a place where they are ostensibly welcome, but only tolerated in practice. Someplace where they are less than 2% of the overall population and made to know it. Imagine what it might feel like to get looks, be followed around stores, have slurs shouted from passing cars, be exposed to bigoted comments in the same media outlets they too rely upon for access to local news, and generally experience disparate treatment (at best), outright animosity (the norm), or even targeted violence. Imagine how you might feel if your loved one was blamed and somehow held responsible for the treatment they received. Imagine your son, daughter, brother, or sister describing that to you. If you can imagine that, then perhaps you can begin to understand the experience of others here in Humboldt County… that this is their experience. Every. Single. Day.
Now, imagine that same dynamic, only allies abound. Where people proactively get involved in matters of disparity, inequity, and injustice. Imagine how differently you would feel if your loved one was in a place where those undeserved experiences were aberrations and not the norm… how good it would feel when people stood up for your son, daughter, brother, or sister, making sure they were treated fairly and no differently than anyone else.
I recently watched someone shouting racial slurs at a group of citizens gathered in the wake of the Lawson homicide. It disgusted me that a white man felt the privilege and sense of entitlement to walk past that diverse and peaceful crowd saying the vile things that he did. I was proud to confront him and stand up for what’s right. I am inviting you to get involved. I acknowledge my privilege and do not mean to co-opt or inappropriately describe the experience of others. No doubt my words will evoke ire with some and they would rather I shut up. My hope though is that the vast majority will get it and join with one another in demonstrating that we are better collectively than how we have recently and historically shown up. I challenge the people of Humboldt County to wake up, step up, show up, and speak up.
Please feel free to publish this additional correspondence to offer clarity in the matter. Thanking you in advance.
Lorna L. Bryant