Why this paper shouldn’t publish an officer’s ridicule of citizens

By Sara Merand, Special to the Reporter

To the Dorchester Reporter’s editorial staff: Several issues need to be addressed with regard to the Sept. 7, 2017, column by Boston Police Officer Mike Keaney.

A piece exclusively intending to ridicule community members is poorly conceived on many fronts, and ultimately is counterproductive for both the police and the publication.

Writing that mocks others might help folks to blow off steam, be intended in good fun, and bolster the sense of humor that so many tough jobs require, but I question whether it’s responsible for such pieces to appear in a neighborhood news publication.

If a teacher were to ridicule students, then an outcry would erupt from families of the students and from the community as a whole. The same would go for a retailer ridiculing customers or a doctor ridiculing patients.

Do students, customers, and patients make objectionable choices sometimes and do things that make the lives of others harder? Absolutely! And I don’t fault anyone for having the occasional cathartic laugh. But a public newspaper is not the appropriate venue for venting frustration through derision that is lacking social context and aimed at community members.

Why would we accept this from a police officer? The type of job someone does and its inherent level of personal danger does not exempt a person from being respectful of the rights and dignity of others.

From a different angle, I wonder what the response would be if a citizen were to write a piece exclusively ridiculing the mistakes and wrongdoings of police officers - not critiquing the police, but simply ridiculing them.

Fraught relationships between the police and the public will not be improved by members of both groups shallowly disparaging each other. Basic human rights and dignity are being undermined openly and aggressively in the current political climate, and I encourage the staff and your readers to ruminate on how to be a voice for progress, respect, and civil rights.

Exploring the broader social and systemic circumstances that lead to crime, including the petty crimes derided in this article, would be a much better use of the Dorchester Reporter’s reach as well as a much more interesting use of Officer Keaney’s extensive experience.

Also, I urge people to reflect on the usefulness of the term “criminals” to describe people’s identities. This label furthers the entrenched systemic barriers to people with criminal records being able to rehabilitate, secure productive employment and education, and have an opportunity to exist as a part of a community - all elements necessary to reduce crime. People involved in crime need not carry that as an immutable identity. In the commission of a crime, one does not forfeit one’s humanity.

Furthermore, in the June 1 vignette, Officer Keaney emphasized that the suspect was not “manly” and thus was laughable, relying on the attitude that stereotypical masculinity is something inherently valuable, and someone lacking it is inherently inferior. This attitude contributes to a culture that allows misogyny and homophobia to go unchallenged, and I encourage us all to avoid complicity in the entrenchment of these attitudes that those in power nationally are attempting to enshrine. For the police specifically, no protective force can do its job when any portion of the population - in this case, people of all genders who are not stereotypically “manly” - is hesitant to call upon them for help.

While I understand that amusing pieces might seem attractive as a way to boost readership, I ask that you please endeavor to amuse us without ridiculing others. I would welcome the voices of police officers recounting anecdotes that changed their thinking in some way, the times when they saw the good sides of humanity, the things they wish the public understood, even venting their anger and criticisms of the dynamics that make their jobs harder and that make people less safe.

Cogent, informed critique and dialogue are essential. I simply see no role for ridicule in moving toward the goal of a more respectful community.
Sara Merand is a Dorchester resident.

Editor’s Note: The Reporter welcomes comments from readers, particularly in the form of letters or commentaries. Please send your thoughts to us at newseditor@dotnews.com.