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FLOWERS: Crime Reporting Should Be Truthful, No Matter Who It Offends

When I was mugged a few months ago, I didn’t really care about the person’s race. I didn’t care if it was a woman or a man. I didn’t care how old he was, if he spoke English as his native language, or even what pronouns he/she/they used.

I cared about one thing, and only one thing: This person had bumped into me, causing me to fall into an automatic checkout counter, sustain a lovely deep purple bruise on my hip, and took my wallet. That’s all I cared about.

Apparently, I should have cared about the person’s “identity” a bit more than I did because to do otherwise is to risk harming the community from which my mugger originated. That’s the sense I’m getting from a recent “Philadelphia Magazine” article, which quoted three prominent Black women in the city of Philadelphia as being troubled by the crime reporting of Fox 29’s Steve Keeley.

According to that article, several local journalists complained about Keeley’s focus on the violent crime that continues to plague the city. People like WHYY’s Cherri Gregg and my former colleague at the Daily News, Jenice Armstrong, were disturbed by the tone and frequency with which Keeley focused on shootings, robberies, sexual assaults, and murders that form the backdrop of current city life. While some city dwellers seem to believe they live in a Shangri-La of coffee houses, eclectic restaurants, verdant parks, and upscale shopping centers with schools that prepare our children to become good citizens, most of us understand that’s a pure fallacy.

Having lived in the city for over two years and having worked in the city for almost 40, I am not one of those who think crime is something that happens to someone else. I know who it’s happening to and have experienced it on numerous occasions, albeit not to the level of the mother who has lost a child to gun violence.

So, the willful ignorance of those Philadelphians both angers and bewilders me. What angers me even more is journalists who think it’s appropriate to attack the messenger of a very serious message: Bad things happen in Philadelphia.

The crux of their argument is that we should not focus on violence because it places certain communities in a bad light. You don’t have to reach very far to figure out which communities they are referring to. Most of the crime occurs in communities of color, and most of its victims are people of color. That fact is indisputable. Trying to ignore it, to put some benign patina on the obvious, is irresponsible.

But it’s not just journalists who are criticizing Keeley. Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, who is up for re-election and recently “liked” a tweet that called me a hack journalist, has long had a problem with Keeley, having had social media run-ins with the reporter. When Philly mag reached out to her for comment, she didn’t hold back.

“Reached by phone on Thursday night, Gauthier said that while crime reporting is important, it’s essential that outlets “cover crime in a full and comprehensive way.” And she charges that Keeley doesn’t do that. “He just broadcasts fear and trauma,” she says. “It feels like a dog whistle to me. His coverage can be inhumane. His flavor isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s harmful.”

I’m not sure what covering crime “in a full and comprehensive way” means. If Gauthier is trying to say that we need to go all social justice empathetic about the shootings and bloodshed and tell the backstory of the poor “child” who beat a man to death with a traffic cone or delve into the psychological angst of a man who violated a restraining order to murder the mother of his children, I’m not interested in her idea of “comprehensive.”

It is outrageous that people are calling out a journalist for doing his job and focusing a spotlight on the things that place this city’s citizens in daily danger. The fact that the picture that emerges when those stories are exposed upsets some people is, and should be, irrelevant. It is particularly troubling that those who are entrusted to tell these stories and, in the case of Gauthier, actually impact the conditions in which we live think that we need to edit real life so that it doesn’t upset the tender hearts and triggered minds.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t care what my mugger looked like. If you asked, I couldn’t even tell you. But I damn well do care that I was a victim of crime, and I’m happy there are honest journalists like Steve Keeley who have the courage to expose it without fear or favor.

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