A dozen or more messages have floated into my inbox since Friday, all saying exactly this:

I’m concerned about the way you reported on the fight in Kennedy Park on Tuesday night. Why didn’t you interview people from both sides of the altercation? This put vulnerable people at risk because it offered legitimacy to one group over the other, and the people you did not interview are already marginalized in the community. For any future reporting, please use journalistic integrity by offering a platform to both sides if you’re going to conduct interviews. Anything less is bias and irresponsible reporting. Also, you must moderate the comment section of your article and the corresponding Facebook page because there are a number of blatantly racist comments. Choosing not moderate racist language is complicity at its best and acting as an accomplice at its worst as it offers those making racist comments publicly a free platform to do so.

The incident the emails were referring involved what appears to be two groups of people fighting, which led to the fatal beating of a Lewiston man — and then an unprecedented amount of bigoted and racist comments on social media.

Our question back to the people who sent the emails: How would you interview people on both sides of the altercation that day?

At the time of the incident, we didn’t know who they were. As of late Monday, we still didn’t. We’re not sure police know everything yet, and if they do they’re not releasing that information.

The email messages presumed the “people you did not interview are already marginalized in the community.”

How could these senders know, since police had barely even begun the investigation? They could not, and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible.

Let’s play this out.

On Tuesday night, Donald Giusti and a group of rowdy friends were at Kennedy Park hanging out, looking for trouble. They were clear about that, which we reported.

Trouble found them, reportedly in the form of a car full of young people shooting pellet guns and BB guns at them, and they chased it down. What resulted was a fight between two groups of people, one group large and the other group — the one with Giusti — small.

During the fracas, someone hit Giusti on the head with a brick — or maybe a rock — causing a life-ending injury.

What police released at that time, was simply this:

State and Lewiston Police are investigating a confrontation late Tuesday night at 10:45 p.m. in the Kennedy Park area between as many as two dozen teenagers, pre-teens and three adult males. One of the men remains in critical condition following surgery. Police today are planning on conducting interviews with those involved and are seeking help from the public from anyone who may have witnessed the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

Nothing more.

When asked, police refused to say whether the confrontation had any ethnic component. They refused to say whether there were suspects. They refused nearly every request for more information.

So, social media filled the void with all things vile.

Frustrated by the lack of official information, one of Giusti’s friends who had been in the park Tuesday night came to the Sun Journal to tell us what he experienced, and we heard him out. He pointed to a certain ethnic group as being responsible for the crime, which we did not report because it was an assertion police refused to confirm.

So, the email messengers — and plenty others posting on social media — would have us ignore confirmation of the facts, presume there was an ethnic connection to the incident and go directly to the leaders of that ethnic community and get their side of a clash that no one in that leadership witnessed and would surely not ever condone?

Where’s the integrity in that?

For us to suppose who may have been responsible for the attack simply because of what an agitated witness perceived in the dark, or whatever social media was fomenting, would have been the height of irresponsibility.

Did we include the witness’ view that the park is unsafe and he wishes that were not the case? We did, because he was there when Giusti was struck. He saw what happened, and we gave voice to that victim.

At least two people have told me in the past three days that the person who hit Giusti over the head is as much a victim as Giusti himself.

How could anyone possibly know that without knowing the full facts of the confrontation? Or at least some glimmer of what State and Lewiston police have uncovered in their joint investigation?

They could not. It is supposition. A leap of logic based on a swirl of social media that is notoriously rife with falsehoods. We deal in facts here.

On the second day of reporting, police raised the specter of ethnic tension contributing to the confrontation, and did so reluctantly.

But the person who crafted the email message, and then asked a bunch of people to send the same to the Sun Journal, were not so reluctant. They jumped to that conclusion from the start and criticized us for not rushing to judgment with them.

The rush to judgment fueling social media prompted the city’s ethnic, community and religious leaders to call for calm on Sunday, a call which this newspaper entirely supports.

As for the assertions that we did not monitor comments on our site or on Facebook, we did. We wrote filter scripts to identify certain phrases, and two people spent most of Friday taking down comments until they simply couldn’t keep up, so we closed comments at sunjournal.com first and then took down the Facebook post.

A woman I spoke to Monday insisted those posts were still live, when they were not. But, then, she saw something someone said on social media and believed that, rather than seek out accurate information from the source. And, that’s how falsehoods are spread.

What happened in the park Tuesday night was tragic and too many fingers have been working overtime to point blame. And, the calls for violence are savage.

Let’s all do our part here to return Lewiston’s downtown to calm, and to take responsibility for what we say and how we say it, whether that’s face-to-face or in the digital universe.

Judith Meyer is executive editor of the Sun Journal.

Judy Meyer


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