The Roanoke Times finally got around to substantially weighing in editorially about Chief Joe Gaskins' handling of the cop-busts-artist fiasco a week ago on Roanoke City Market. You'd think that after nearly a week, the editorial writers would have had enough time to and enough information to understand what's wrong here. What we got this a.m., however, is that Gaskins should have said something--anything--earlier.
Frankly, my guess is that Gaskins hasn't said anything yet. He simply signed a statement written for him, as is so often the case with public officials who can't be trusted with public statements. God forbid Gaskins would have held a press conference within a day of the incident and subjected himself to real questions from live people who weren't on his side. Now that would have been revealing.
When we finally got the Gaskins statement (it was initially swiped by an alert Internet reporter who got hold of an e-mail between the chief and the mayor, then modified for public consumption later), it was about a lack of communication. See, he (or somebody at the city) knows the words. What it didn't say, and what hasn't been said by anybody in the city government, is that police officer Rheinhold Lucas acted recklessly, boorishly, without discipline, without regard for an entire community and in the manner of a totalitarian police state (demanding an ID from a young woman whose "crime" is still in dispute). Rheinhold's actions reflect on the department and the department reflects on the chief. It has all led to the American Civil Liberties Union offering its services to the "criminal" here, saying, in effect that Katherine Gwaltney either didn't break a law or that her free speech rights were unconstitutionally interfered with. Damned if you do, damned if you don't
Gaskins' silence, siding with the officer's action, lack of willingness to face accusers and total misunderstanding of what's wrong here doesn't surprise me in the least. The Times' slow, plodding and disappointing coverage of an incident that happened within three blocks of its front door at lunch hour when some of its reporters had to be in the vicinity is not as easily understood. Social media (and I'll include this blog as part of that group) was on this one like flies on cow flop, reporting within minutes of the incident, and has clung to it with up-to-the-minute news and commentary all through the past week. Social media, in this instance, gets it.
That's yet another reason why I see a newspaper dying and a strong competition going on to take its place as a conveyer of information and commentary.
(Here's a response from Luanne T. of the Roanoke Times Editorial Board: Dan, you are welcome as always to disagree with our opinion. This was the second editorial we published on this incidence. The first one ran Monday, which was the earliest date possible for us from a production standpoint. [Remember, the function of the editorial page is not to break news.]
(Having already commented on the incident, our focus today was to comment on the manner in which the police chief bungled his response. We believe an effective leader would have come out front on this, mended fences and released the artist without charges. You are correct that print does not offer the immediate forum for chatter that people seem to want these days. That's why we have hosted a lively exchange since the start of this on our blog. You're welcome to join us anytime there.)