If you scroll down to my “I Had A Dream” post, you’ll see that Leilani Polk and I have been discussing my post for a few comments now. Before you read further, take a look at our comments (link on the right side of your screen) and come back on up here. Rather than post a comment as long as a blog entry, thought I should just make a new entry.
I have a friend who lives in a different neighborhood several blocks away. Poor black people populate his street. He is one of two white people on the street. But does he have the problems I do? No. On his street I see a community that takes pride in their homes. They get up and go to work; they keep their homes tidy and well-maintained. And these black people, I would argue, have faced the same hurdles as the black people on my street. But they have not, by all appearances, faced through problems through the haze of crack smoke and crime.
I know that I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up black in any economic strata (poor, middle class, or rich). I’m not sure I feel “entrenched” in southside/midtown, but I have looked at the issue and researched it outside my own opinions. I have looked for proof that I am wrong about what I am about to say; I have not found it.
The St. Pete police are not the problem. The problem comes when St. Pete has a mayor who accuses me of “spinning” a story when I interview him about crime in midtown. The problem comes when St. Pete can have a media event when they cut the ribbon on new stores in midtown/southside but it takes me five months to get Mayor Baker to consent to an interview about the area- and only then because I ran into him at the aforementioned ribbon cutting the day before the article went to press. The problem comes when the media reprints press releases instead of doing their own research. And the problem comes when I see people and talk to people who communicate a sense of entitlement and a lack of desire to change. There are a wealth of opportunities within walking distance- financial assistance to buy a home, lifelong learning, scholarship assistace, help wanted signs in storefronts- but how much more do you expect from the people offering the help? The help is there, the chances exist. I’ve reported on several opportunities for kids and adults, I’ve passed the press releases along to the paper, and I don’t know what else to do. People who want to find help have found it. Maybe not all of those who want it, but many have. Some people do not want to change. It’s unfortunate that my street houses so many of them.
And, yes, Leilani, the problem comes from me. I have had long discussions with my editor about my biases and opinions and we’ve looked at how it will color any reporting I do on midtown/southside. Part of the reason he chose to run that piece, I think, is so that people could see my bias up front.
Every person- reporters included- have biases. A good reporter should try to not incorporate them into the reporting. I don’t know if I can do that on this issue.
Yes, I want to avoid sweeping generalizations. Can I? I have no clue. Here’s where I want desperately to argue with you but I can’t. I definitely don’t agree with you on all points, but you’re right on this one. What I’m doing isn’t right, from a journalistic standpoint. But… would it be better for me to have not written that and reported on midtown/southside anyway? And consider this: right or wrong, reporter or regular person, this is how living where I live has changed me. I moved there because I found an inexpensive home and – this is key- I believed that the City of St. Petersburg was committed to the area. I expected some crime, yes, but I also expected the City to demonstrate their commitment to reducing crime in this area and improving quality of life issues.
The police can only do so much. Is it their fault that the budget only allows so many officers? How do you justify a higher budget and, by translation, higher taxes, when the people paying the majority of those taxes don’t live in midtown/southside and won’t see a change in their day to day lives, save the higher tax bill? How can you fault the police when the County has judges that accept ridiculous excuses like “my client had a prescription and mistook the Ecstasy for his prescription”? How can you fault the police when the state attorney can’t or won’t prosecute a case against the guy the police caught on a stolen scooter, with drugs on him and two violations of probation for other drug charges? How frustrating it must be to work as an officer, and when they behave like real people and speak their mind, we crucify them for saying what they believe. How frustrated must that officer have been to feel as though that was the best advice he could give me?
Look, all I’m saying is that I have changed because of my experiences. I used to feel like you do now- possibly more so; I don’t know the extent of your convictions. I was NOT ambivalent about race and discrimination. I still am not. But if taking the city of St. Pete on faith and making the move here has contributed to the dissolution of what I thought was a solid belief system, what will it do to others? What about people who don’t feel as strongly as I did and move here simply because they feel they have no other choice?
That’s the real problem, as I see it. I am one person and, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t matter. But take several of me and add us all together and it scares me.