Readers respond to "Unusual Suspects"
I once learned that any attempt to invoke the Third Reich while telling someone off immediately discredits the speaker because it draws an excessive hyperbole. However, the similarity between your recent publication and historic propaganda found in communities around World War II Germany degrading other humans to the level of cattle going for slaughter prompts me to break the norm.
I was a frequent reader of City Pages in coffee shops around Minneapolis and St. Paul and previously considered it an upstanding, though controversial, free publication. After reading the story titled "Unusual Suspects" (7/28/09), my stomach turned with disgust and anger at your paper's complete disregard for the people behind the ones pictured and storied.
The writers and editors who approved this story have made a mockery of their inherent value as individuals. You have alienated already struggling people and stripped them of many universal rights. Your story lacks depth and understanding, and is far beyond credulity.
I will never pick up City Pages again unless there are serious apologies to the people pictured and any remaining City Pagers readers for that poor excuse of an article. I will share my opinions with anyone interested and hope to organize a boycott of City Pages. I will work to crush both your readership and your revenue stream.
I appreciated Erin Carlyle's article. While the tone of some of the profiles was less than Wall Street Journal professional (this is City Pages, after all), it is worth knowing that a few individuals can cost society quite a bit of money as well as peace of mind. These people are quite atypical (quick, tell me how many people in the U.S. get arrested or are issued citations more than 50 times?) and are thus worthy of being in the news. They may have problems of their own, but they also cause a lot of problems for others, their neighborhoods, and for society in general. To paraphrase an old engineering maxim, "a small leak can cause a big problem."
I work for WATCH, a court monitoring and research organization, and we track batterers and rapists (we are familiar with Jarvis Singletary) and regularly publish offender chronologies. A recent chronology highlighted the 23-year criminal history of an abuser who, among other things, assaulted five intimate partners, three acquaintances, and eight members of his family, including his parents, grandmother, a cousin, an aunt, and three uncles. Five out of 39 cases resulted in convictions. As hopeless as some of these cases may seem, documenting the crimes of chronic offenders is an important step toward identifying solutions and keeping the public safe. You'll find our chronologies at www.watchmn.org
In the cover story "Unusual Suspects" you highlighted offender "The Skyway Jerk-Off" by starting off: "[He] fancies himself a bit of a ladies' man. Unfortunately, women aren't very receptive to his advances." The behavior you then go on to describe, his less than "Prince Charming" actions, are sexual assault. They are not "advances," it is not "unfortunate" that women aren't responsive. Women should be kicking him in the balls and calling the cops. You acknowledge that his behavior is wrong, but your playful description of it is absurd and insulting.
I was appalled to see your story on Minneapolis offenders. The combination of shameless regurgitation of police narratives of crime and society, and glibly deprecating profiles of individuals who live—however uneasily—among us, amounts to a horrifying excuse for journalism, even of the corporate weekly variety. (And no, a few "reporter's notebook" paragraphs squirreled away online don't manage to balance the perspective.)
Law enforcement agencies have all the resources necessary to strip people of whatever shreds of dignity remain throughout a lifetime of degradation; the position of any self-respecting journalist should of course be to seek and expose truth rather than to serve as the PR arm of the local police department.
The article smugly states that, "They may not be the most dangerous or even the most prolific, but these are the people who continue to make life miserable for their neighbors." Of course, the question of what constitutes "miserable" is almost comically elucidated here, despite Carlyle's best efforts at avoiding substantive investigation. The article is premised entirely on "crimes of poverty," yet manages to dance around the very concept without ever confronting it.
The awkward guilt of sitting at a stoplight and avoiding eye contact with a panhandler, or of walking quickly by, eyes fixed on the ground, as a drunken homeless person engages in a futile screaming match with an arresting officer, is a discomfiting reminder of the reality that affords a few of us comfort on the backs of so many. But however uncomfortable it may be, the claim to misery lies elsewhere: mental illness, chemical dependency, the experience of slipping further and further through the cracks while the cogs of late-capitalism keep turning—these are the elements of destitution and tragedy.
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