Jan 292012

A 15-year old girl was just killed in San Leandro, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in front of their 9-months old baby.  The community is shocked, angry and sad.  Emotions are strong, and so are the needs to express them.

“Motherfuckers like that bitch assed cat just need to be put in a room with me, hands only, all I gotta do is think about what he did, its a wrap.” wrote one man, the father of two girls himself.  Unfortunately he did it as a comment on a San Leandro Patch article about the murder.  So it was taken down.

To be fair, the SL Patch’s current editor, Tom Abate* – a respected journalist, with years of experience – understood the context and would have left the comment up.  But David Mills,whose specific job with AOL is unclear but only shows up at the SLP to delete comments**, was quick to take it down.  The language was inappropriate, of course.  Swear words might offend the delicate sensitivities of Patch readers; presumably more than the actual murder they reported on.

It’s not the first time.  Messages using swear words, criticizing the police or the Catholic church have been taken down as well.  Personal attacks done more subtly, sarcasm rather than plain words, is left to stay.

I find the Patch’s censorship policy very sad.  I had great hopes for the Patch when it started, and while they were quickly shot down by superficial reporting, a focus on fluffy issues and, yes, arbitrary censorship of comments – my hopes had been renewed when Tom Abate was hired as editor.  Not only does Tom focus on serious issues and actual news (imagine that!), but he does a great job in steering discussion and calming down the parties when necessary.  Since Tom joined Patch, more people have joined in the discussion, more views are presented.

San Leandro does need a community website where people can come together.  I host a Facebook page for this blog, but its audience is limited to Facebook users who have befriended me (and if you use FB I encourage you to befriend me).  I’m also not a journalist nor want to be one, so the content of that page is by far limited to what is published in other media (mostly the SL Patch, San Leandro Bytes and the Daily Review).  It’s for that reason that I participate very actively on the Patch.

But in order to serve the San Leandro community, its imperative for its editors (and super editors or whatever Mills is) to understand and embrace the community.  And the San Leandro community does not consist merely of William F. Buckley wannabes and ladies who do tea.  Some people are rougher.  Some people swear, in particular when they are angry and distressed.  We should let them.  Even more, we should welcome them.  Our emotions, after all, are what bring us together as a community, what makes us attach to one another – and sometimes we can be uncouth when we express those emotions, and sometimes it’s warranted.  As it was here.

I hope, because I can do little more than hope, that while the SL Patch is still around (and while it survived longer than I thought, its days are pretty much counted), it can really be a place where the community comes together, specially about tragic events like this.  And I hope that after it shuts down, someone will have the initiative to create a news & discussion site that is more inclusive and less censorious.

* Tom, however, must have gotten a “talk” by David. He edited a recent comment by replacing the word “ass”, left by the commenter, with the word “jerk”.

** David Mills responded to my question about his position. He is “an associate regional editor who helps oversee 11 Patch sites, including San Leandro. Among my many duties are editing stories on these sites and checking the comments section.”

  5 Responses to “To San Leandro Patch: Stop the Censorship!”

  1. I’m originally from san leandro and left about five six years ago in order to better my life. I friended your page to keep in touch with what goes on there. I enjoy and appritiate what you post so I can be aware of what’s going on. I’m sad to say I don’t always enjoy it because of the often negative and violent activity going on there. San leandro is not what it was ten twenty years ago unfortunatly? We are supposed to be a free country and have the right to free speech. I can understand not allowing certain statements but for the most part people should be able to express themselves verbally espsecially when they can’t act physically. I’m in the process of moving back tp the bay area but chose to move to fremont instead of san leandro because of how it has become a “mini oakland.” I hope that there can be somthing done as far as the comunity coming together and being able to voice their opinions and feelings together freely without the possibility of them being removed. I wpuld also like to be a part of it and I am considering contacting someone to do so when I get back out there! Thank you for your time and efforts on these topics!

  2. I disagree that profanity should be allowed in public discussion sites. People DO need an outlet to express their emotions. But their expression should not be without consideration for a socially-acceptable norm. My children read Patch (Yes, Tom Abate is their father, but I would have them reading it even if not.) and I would hope our community would offer an outlet for expression that’s safe for all its members to read and share in the expression.

    I find profanity utterly offensive and have tried to teach my children that the use of profanity is just a cover for not being able to express ones’ real feelings.

    If Patch’s days are limited, as you say, then it shouldn’t cut them even shorter by losing the majority of its readership due to the profanity being used by a minority. Just because we have an ability to share our thoughts with folks more widely now with forums such as these, doesn’t mean our public wants to hear — or read — those thoughts expressed without real meaning by use of profanity.

    I know I don’t.

  3. Mia, the problem is that what is “socially acceptable” in your circle of middle class, middle aged folks, may not necessarily be what is socially acceptable in other circles. The idea that people should only communicate in a way that is acceptable to a given social class, is not just offensive and exclusionary, but it’s counter productive. Try as you might, you cannot force people to communicate in a way that is acceptable to you, English teachers have been trying for decades. If you censor the speech of those who don’t follow your norms, then you will end up censoring their voices. They will simply go away. You will note that this particular commenter did not go back and repost his comments without the swear words. Indeed, I think the same is true of most people whose postings have been removed from the Patch for the same reason.

    Now, silencing people who communicate differently from you or the major Patch readership may seem like a good idea. And indeed, it may have little effect in cities that are mostly composed of white, middle class folks. But that’s not the case with San Leandro. If you only hear from folks that are just like you, you will have no clue as to what’s going on in the rest of the city. And you will miss the opportunity to hear voices and opinions different from those you are used to. Ultimately, it’s your loss, not theirs. But it’s also my loss, and the loss of anyone who does care to hear from all San Leandro citizens.

    Beyond this, I think that the idea that we have to protect children from “bad words”, is, in this day and age, also dangerous. One think that’s become clear to me since I started my San Leandro Talk facebook page, which has been befriended by young people, is that they communicate differently. They’ve pretty created their own language – which sometimes I have great difficulties reading – and it is quite populated by swear words. Now, I may not want my children to speak that way, but I do want them to /be able/ to speak/write that way. And that means, of course, exposing them to that language/writing.

    And finally, I don’t agree that the use of profanity is a cover for not being able to express one’s real feelings. Quite the contrary. I would say that of all the comments I read on this matter, the ones that were removed were the ones in which feelings were most clearly expressed. The rest of us use euphemisms and stock phrases to protect us and somewhat isolate us from the process. Maybe we should try it his way.

  4. Well stated Marga, though I truly hope Patch’s days aren’t numbered. From a broader view I recently heard Patch talked about at the Young Democrats Retreat as one of the most important media outlets, though importance today doesn’t equal survival tomorrow. Tom is doing an excellent job, and although I personally would rather read about more good things going on in San Leandro, like Athlete of the Week, Crab Feeds, and community efforts, rather than murder and crime, I understand the social importance of these issues.

    In regards to language used on the site. I agree with Marga whole heartedly. In fact for me I find it far more disrespectful that a voice would be eliminated than the actual content of their message.

    I’m not a parent, yet, but I would think profanity on Patch and the issues being reported offer a learning conversation between parent and child about understanding and living with the different sensibilities of a diverse world. We’ll let our children read about a 15 year old being stabbed to death (a far greater impact on community psyche), but we don’t want them to see the F-bomb? Which is scarier on the mind of a child?

    We shouldn’t discount people’s points of view or their reaction to a emotionally trying story because they speak a different version of English than someone else. We all speak a different version, and our ability to communicate with these different dialects, honestly, is the core of our human experience.

    • Exactly, Chris! Yesterday, I finally watched “Precious“, an Oscar-nominated movie about a young black girl (herself, the mother of two) living in Harlem. The movie provides a window to a social group and the issues present there, that I can only get through the media. I think it’s an important movie for people to see. And yet, every other word seems to be a swear word. And, let me tell you, listening to swear words is much more impacting that merely reading them.

      It’s funny, I bet that the same people who complain about using swear words, would be appalled at having Huck Finn be censored or Shakespeare translated into the vernacular (and yet, that’s what they are asking people to do).

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