In My Home Town

It is a bad day when the television programs are interrupted for “Breaking News” for yet another mass shooting in our country.  It is a horrible day when that shooting is in your home town.

The Annapolis Capital Gazette, known locally as The Capital (and to those of us in the crab capital of the world it is just as often called the “crab wrapper”) is a typical local paper that covers news in the state capital and surrounding Anne Arundel County.  It fairly covers local politics, provides forums for opinions in letters to the editor (always entertaining), provides local civic information, follows events at the U.S. Naval Academy, and most importantly to some, has great local sports coverage on the high school and college level.

It is also a historic publication.  Its roots date to the Maryland Gazette founded in 1727 in Annapolis and is one of the first regular newspapers in the country.  Reportedly it was among the very first newspapers to publish the Declaration of Independence, but its heart has always been the local town and county news.

I did not personally know the five people murdered as they worked at their desks in an otherwise ordinary office building, but I felt like I did — especially two of them — because I read their columns and admired their style.  As is usual in a small local paper, the staff had multiple assignments covering various elements of community life.  Rob Hiaasen — the brother of famed author Carl Hiaasen known for his very funny books about life in Florida — among other things wrote a quirky and funny weekly column about various off the wall occurrences in and around the area.  The other was Wendi Winters who wrote about almost anything one can think of but was best known for her coverage of our part of town and for the weekly “home of the week” feature.  Her beat was all of the local girl scout fund-raisers, church bazaars, neighborhood parades, civic meetings and such taking place in our little piece of the world.

The other three innocent people murdered on a regular day at work were Gerald Fischman, an editor; John McNamara, a local sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, a newly hired sales assistant.  Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, our neighbors, regular people that went to work like any other day and never came home.

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes @CNN @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.  SICK!”  — Tweet from the president 17 Feb 2017

Just regular people doing the best they can.  These people were not our enemies.

The perpetrator had a long-standing grudge against the paper and was known to the police. Several years ago The Capital reported on a story about a harasser and stalker convicted of those misdemeanors.  He felt that the paper libeled him and went on a personal crusade to discredit the paper and to seek revenge.  Most of it was via social media but on Thursday, for whatever reason, he decided to take a shotgun into the news room and kill innocent people.  A nut case.  There is no way, perhaps ever, that we will know why he decided to act in this way on this particular day.  He thought that the paper was “unfair” and “biased” and not telling the truth about him.

“I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair “press,” now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent “sources” are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!”  — Tweet from the president 30 Dec 2017

Before you set your hair on fire, I am not in any way shape or form holding the president directly accountable for Thursday’s murders.  I do wonder, however, what it takes for someone to be pushed over the edge because of the constant bombardment of such statements that reinforce an already sick view of what journalism and reporting is all about.  To be fair, in a statement about the attack on The Capital yesterday the president said in a prepared statement he read from a teleprompter,

”Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs. To the families of the victims there are no words to express our sorrow for your loss. Horrible, horrible event. Horrible thing happened.”

I have no doubt that the president does not want physical harm to come to journalists.  I do have to wonder, however, whether he has any concern that what he considers rhetoric to fire up his base may have actual consequences.

But those are discussions for another day.  For now, my community, my home town is in mourning and is still reeling from the shock of what way too many communities have experienced.  Active shooter drills are now a regular part of school routines.  How can we accept that?  No one is safe in school, church, music concerts, movie theaters, news rooms, restaurants or pretty much anywhere.  As a society we cannot accept this as normal.  The level of discourse and civic involvement needs to move in a positive direction.  Gun lover or gun hater we all agree that there is a sickness of some sort pervading our nation that makes it okay to act in a violent and destructive manner just because of a grudge.  We are a country full of smart people.  We need to figure this out.

For now, may their souls rest in peace.

 

 

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