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Editorial: Our Role in Community Conversations

Walker Evans Walker Evans Editorial: Our Role in Community Conversations
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Over the past several years, we’ve published a variety of articles on topics related to policing practices, community safety, and law enforcement. Many cities across the country are grappling with issues related to broken policing systems, abuse within those systems, and unnecessary deaths involving the shooting of innocent civilians.

Columbus is no stranger to these topics, with video footage of police brutality, the federal indictment of a Vice Detective charged with crimes related to kidnapping and sex trafficking after shooting and killing a woman in custody, and many other stories that Columbus Underground has not fully had the resources to cover extensively.

As a news publication, we’ve refrained from delving too deeply into the world of crime reporting — in large part because it’s already covered by traditional print and local TV media. But there are larger civic conversations to be had surrounding these topics, and we feel that those are too important to shy away from.

To that end, we’ve covered the community discussion around police reform, we’ve spoken to the grassroots advocates that are fighting for change in their own neighborhoods, we’ve spoken directly with Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther to talk about his views on police activity, and in 2017 we hosted a Big Table event at our offices to bring together voices from all sides to have a productive and informative conversation on these topics.

Community members gather to discuss policing practices at the Columbus Underground offices during The Big Table discussions on May 27, 2017.

Most recently, we published a pair of topical articles back-to-back. One focuses on the ongoing internal changes at the police department, as told through interviews with Interim Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan and Mayor Ginther’s Chief Policy Advisor Bryan Clark. The other article features an interview with the founders and members of the Columbus Community Cop Watch Facebook group, which tasks itself with “policing the police.”

Several days after those articles went up, one of our readers sent us a note with some issues regarding the Community Cop Watch group. Their concerns were with several posts that the operators of the group had made on social media — re-publishing memes that included jokes related to deceased police officers. This reader stated that they viewed these posts as the equivalent of death threats, and politely asked that we “reconsider the story.”

We thanked this reader for voicing their concern and our editorial team spent a few days talking it over. We reached back out to the Community Cop Watch group for some clarification about their intent behind re-posting the memes, but we have yet to receive a response. We offered the concerned reader the opportunity to write an opinion piece to share their point of view, but they declined the offer for valid reasons.

At the end of the day, there’s no easy solution to these kinds of concerns. We rarely remove articles once they’ve been published, and only edit for typos or factual corrections. Furthermore, removing an article after it’s been read by thousands of people doesn’t accomplish much in the way of redacting information from the public realm. Additionally, we feel that our story about this group does its intended job of relaying information from a specific perspective as it relates to the larger ongoing narrative of police reform issues.

While Columbus Underground has no control over the actions or words of other individuals on social media platforms, we saw this as an opportunity to bring to light valid concerns with public interactions, share a bit more about how our decisions are made in our newsroom, and invite the community to continue to be a part of the ongoing conversation.

One quote from the concerned reader summarizes this issue quite nicely:

“We don’t get better by throwing stones. We get better by having open, honest discussion that earns the respect and gains understanding of our fellow humans.”

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