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New-age book burnings all the rage in Buffalo, New York

By J. DeVoy

Buffalo, New York, was in the international headlines a little over a week ago for a shooting that occurred at a downtown bar, the City Grill, that left 4 dead and another 4 wounded.  As city residents can attest, this came as a surprise because the City Grill is off Buffalo’s beaten path for violent nightlife, and is a relatively upscale venue dominated by yuppies and their familiars during the week.  While a suspect was initially apprehended, he was later released because the highly trained Buffalo Police mistook his identity.

The initial headlines indicated that the venue was in use for an anniversary party.  As time went on and further investigation occurred, though, the media discovered that these parties were a weekly occurrence – the issue initially was confused because one of the victims was celebrating his one-year anniversary.

Yesterday, The Buffalo News had the balls gross insensitivity to point out in its front page headline that 7 of the 8 shooting victims had a criminal record.  While these are uncomfortable facts, The Buffalo News’ Editor and Vice President, Margaret Sullivan, unapologetically described the information as “an important piece of the puzzle as our community tries to understand and explore why it happened.”

But that was then, and this – 24 scant hours later – is now.

Angry residents staged a burning of the Buffalo News Monday, protesting an article detailing the criminal histories of several of the Main Street shooting victims.

Protesters said Sunday’s story about the backgrounds of those shot was “disrespectful” to the victims’ and their families. (source.)

While the victims’ criminal records could have been presented in a more tasteful way, there was no onus on the News to protect the feelings of the people who earned them.  The protestors would like outsiders to believe – and maybe even believe themselves – that there is some cruel fairy who dispenses criminal charges amongst the population and one is merely unlucky to become a felon, or that some computer glitch causes these entries to be made in the files of unsuspecting individuals.  Reality check: If you have a criminal record, you earned it – even if you were just a victim of circumstance or “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Prosecutors, though tough, aren’t monsters…at least not in Erie County.

More troubling is the gestapo-like language interfering with facts.  The Buffalo News was “disrespectful.”  People are “angry.”  So, naturally, the general public following the story should be denied information about it.

More than a dozen protesters burned copies of the Buffalo News and urged people to boycott the paper. They also demanded that those who were responsible for the article be fired.

Fortunately, the demonstration doesn’t seem to be widespread.  But calling for the firing of people over spreading information?  Print journalists, no less – not exactly a booming industry – and in THIS economy?  Ironically, the protestors have put the shoe on the other foot without realizing it.

They also claimed the article was racist.

The shaming language reaches its inevitable crescendo.  Admittedly, all of the victims in the shooting were African American.  But pointing out that 7 out of 8 of them had a criminal history, potentially linking them with Buffalo’s well documented system of gangs and rivalries, does not a racist statement make.

The image of book burning is a powerful one, as it is a tactic that has been used for centuries by tyrants and oppressive groups to obliterate the foundation for any ideas harmful to their rule.  In modern America, the image is most closely associated with Nazism and Christianity (normally with respect to Beatles albums in protest of John Lennon’s statements about being larger than Jesus), but it has happened more recently in Iraq, Cuba and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  While a protected form of speech, it is among the least intelligent; though it demonstrates disapproval of a message, it seeks to destroy information rather than repudiate or disprove it.  In civil proceedings, this kind of conduct tends to prove that the evidence’s contents were not only true, but damaging.

The African American community in Buffalo should be mad, for a lot of reasons.  The area’s job growth is virtually nonexistent, and what little there is tends to occur in the inaccessible suburbs.  The area’s people by in large have given up on the city and, by extension, its residents.  There is an endless supply of reasons to protest and demand the attention of the media and public, but the method for doing this is important.  Actually destroying the controversial information – even in effigy, as its out on the internet and memorialized in this blog forevermore – is perhaps the disconcerting and least effective way of achieving that goal.

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