I am writing to object to the Washington City Paper’s handling of the story of police mismanagement in Patrol Service Area 109 (see Page 11). The story began when I phoned the City Paper on Friday, Nov. 5. I said that the police had done such a lousy job in PSA 109 that the citizens were forced to stand on the street corners themselves to prevent drug dealing—and I also said that the citizens would be on two corners that night at 9 p.m.
A reporter, Jason Cherkis, showed up and was told by citizens that the police were doing a better job than they had previously done. Therefore, they were not willing to criticize the police. The citizens told Cherkis that they were on the corner because they wanted to take back their neighborhood.
Most reporters would have puzzled over this glaring contradiction between citizens defending the police while placing their lives in danger. They would have wondered why these citizens were afraid to criticize the police. Most reporters would have done some digging to find out why the police had failed to drive drug dealers off the corners of PSA 109, despite 14 months of pledges to clean up the area by Mayor Anthony Williams, Police Chief Ramsey, and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. And out of that digging, enterprising reporters would have written a startling story about the failure of the MPD to do its job, and such a story would have been a good test case of whether Police Chief Ramsey has been effective at the local level.
I said enterprising reporters. But Jason Cherkis did not research the failure of the MPD to clean up PSA 109. He did not try to understand why the citizens were afraid to criticize the police. He did not look into the failures of the police brass to inspire the cops on the beat to do their job. That would have taken a lot of work. He took the easy way out. Cherkis initially decided that there was no story at the scene. Then I showed up and I told him that the leader of the citizens at PSA 109’s east end—Jim Myers—was behind the subterfuge that the police were doing a better job at fighting crime than they had been. Suddenly, Cherkis was presented with a dramatic, easily graspable story that needed no research: a conflict between two activists, me and Jim Myers.
I was oblivious to what Cherkis was thinking. I stayed on the corner, giving him information about past PSA meetings and regaling him with stories on how the police had refused to do their job in the PSA. Little did I know that I was now the subject of Cherkis’ article. Under the impression that my remarks were off the record, I made remarks about Myers that I intended should remain private.
Later, when I found out that Cherkis had shifted the focus of the story to me, I again urged him to write about the failure of the police to do their job despite the promises of the chief and our politicians. Cherkis told me that the City Paper was not willing to focus on Ramsey so soon after killing an article on him by Jonetta Rose Barras.
In a later phone conversation, I tried to tell Cherkis a series of stories about the failure of the local police leaders to do their job. I started by telling Cherkis that in public meetings 1st District Commander Kim Dine and Capt. Al Dreher of 1D1 had told angry citizens that they could not make drug dealers move because that would be harassment. Cherkis cut me short by telling me that the police leaders were quite right to take this position because to have done otherwise would have violated the rights of black people. I had planned to tell Cherkis that Myers had urged the police to station nonharassing police officers on the same corner as the drug dealers, in the hope that this effort would stop the drug dealing, but the police officials had refused to do even that. But I never got the words out because Cherkis then told me that the story was not about the past, but about what he saw for three hours on one Friday night.
What can you say about a newspaper that stands behind a reporter who thinks he can write a story by spending three hours on a street corner talking to people? A paper that supports a reporter who conducts no research into the neighborhood or the police? Who has no plans to conduct additional telephone interviews with citizens who can tell him about the past and continued failure of the police in that PSA?
When Carl Rowan Jr. learned that the City Paper had refused to print Barras’ article criticizing Chief Ramsey, Rowan wisely refused all further interviews with City Paper reporters. I wish I had followed his lead. Now, after being burned by your reporter, I will do so. I will never speak to one of your wretched reporters again. And I urge all citizens of Washington, D.C., to be wary of City Paper reporters. They’ll screw you every time.