Nothing you read here in the next few minutes should take anything away from the tragic death of Derek Williams, the 22-year-old man who died while in police custody in July 2011.
The video of him in the back seat of the police car, gasping for breath, pleading, is horrifying to watch. His family is understandably outraged, as should we all be at this kind of treatment, or non-treatment.
It’s very sad, and hopefully an investigation will be impartial and will provide some answers to an event with many questions. If the police are guilty of something they should be punished. No question about it.
But there is one more thing going on here, besides the apparently needless death of a young man that has me perplexed.
When this story initially broke, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel went to great lengths to point out that it was the newspaper that uncovered the troubling video and passed it along to the medical examiner’s office. There is no reason to doubt the claim that the paper did, indeed, do what it said it did.
But I did not just fall off the turnip truck.
And I can say that this information would never have come to light in the manner it did if it weren’t for the constant efforts by the paper to discover and write about problems with the Milwaukee Police Department.
This is not in any way an attempt to cover up or excuse the actions of the police in the Williams case. Not even close. I don’t think I have to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to fighting against discrimination and fighting for equal rights and protections.
But I also have a lengthy history as a journalist, and I know a campaign when I see one. It’s true of the crazy birther movement. It’s true of the MSNBC relentless assault on Mitt Romney’s taxes. It’s true of Rush Limbaugh and his acolytes in their campaign against women’s rights.
And the Journal Sentinel coverage of the Milwaukee Police Department has that same kind of odor to me.
The paper has fallen on hard dimes with dwindling circulation, shrinking income, a staff that has been gutted, and it is only a shadow of its former self with a passionate desire to try and remain moderately relevant.
This paper is now interested in, and only capable of, the big story. They don’t cover all the news the way they once did.
I was going to call the editors and ask about this concept of a vendetta coverage plan against the MPD. But I know what the response would be. "We just cover the news that comes our way and we report honestly."
I’m not saying the paper is dishonest. But the evidence is clear, from story after story, from incident after incident, that this paper has its sights set on the MPD and on Chief Edward Flynn. Sending a reporter to a news conference to shout at the chief, over and over, TV cameras and cameras from the paper itself, smells too much like "gotcha" journalism to me.
I’m positive that if the paper didn’t have this vendetta going, they would never have uncovered this videotape of Williams dying. So, it’s a double-edged sword here. The intense effort of the paper has done some good in uncovering the tape. But the design the paper has on the police seems unsavory.
I have plenty of experience in controversial coverage. I know when things are on the up-and-up and when there is an agenda that is hidden from public view.
This paper wants the chief’s scalp. And given the craven spine of so many
politicians in this city, they may well get it.
And although I am no apologist for the police, I just don’t like the way this whole thing is playing out.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.