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.
** 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.”