It was a tough day.
On Wednesday morning a firestorm of criticism was unleashed against the Lewiston Tribune on social media and beyond.
We published an Atlanta Journal-Constitution political cartoon on Wednesday’s Opinion page depicting a pair of students — one Black and one white — hiding underneath classroom desks next to a chalkboard that read “Active Shooter Drill,” with the Black student saying “This feels like preparing for a cop to show up.”
Emails, phone calls and more than four dozen subscription cancellations lit up our front office.
The consensus: The Tribune doesn’t support local law enforcement. It was also a put-down on our teachers who lead our kids — including three of my own — in regular active shooting drills in our schools. Not to mention the first responders.
In summary: What you’ve done, Tribune, is disgusting. It’s disgraceful, and wrong, and you should be ashamed. We broke a sacred trust.
We’re done with the Tribune, many of you said.
We listened, otherwise helpless to rewind time.
At the end of Wednesday’s barrage of posts, phone calls and emails, I asked as many of our 120 employees I could find to gather for a visit.
Our front office was shaken. So was I.
The cartoon was sketched by liberal cartoonist Mike Luckovich — a Northwest native born in Seattle, who attended Boise’s Bishop Kelly High School and graduated from the University of Washington — in response to Sunday’s shooting of young father Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
Luckovich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose edgy approach to his craft has landed us in hot water with our community before.
As we fielded calls, the aftermath of Blake’s shooting continued to unfold.
The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced a civil rights investigation into the police shooting. A white teenager who confronted demonstrators was arrested in connection with two shooting deaths in Kenosha. Protests spread on to athletes in three professional sports leagues, with the National Basketball Association postponing three playoff games and the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball calling off three games as well.
Regardless of the intent of Luckovich’s cartoon about a significant national news event and ongoing public debate about law enforcement methods in our country, many interpreted the cartoon as a Tribune direct slap in the face of our local law enforcement.
That was our judgment error — the national commentary was read by many as local.
One of the hardest parts of this unfortunate happening is hearing strong words — welcome and even warranted — from good people I respect and admire. From neighbors, readers and personal friends.
Genuinely listening to impassioned voices tear at the fabric of oversight by our community newspaper was and still is an emotional experience.
Nonetheless, we take responsibility for what an Idaho State Police officer I spoke with Wednesday properly summed up as a “shock to the conscience.”
I visited with nearly every police chief, sheriff and a handful of officers on Thursday.
My message: We regret Wednesday’s Opinion page cartoon. We made a judgment error and failed to anticipate the impact the cartoon would have locally, and the negative reaction it would elicit.
Make no mistake, local law enforcement is a cornerstone of our communities. These officers and deputies are responsible for keeping our streets, homes, schools and children safe.
We expressed this belief ourselves in an April 24, 2019, editorial following the shooting of Nez Perce Tribal Officer Josh Rigney. Titled, “For a cop, there is no off-duty sanctuary,” it conveyed our genuine respect for the burdens borne by those in law enforcement — and those who love them.
“Facing down the threat of harm or death goes with being a cop,” it read. “Most of us assume, however, that the hazards disappear as he crosses the threshold of his home. Ask any officer and he’ll tell you otherwise. He is acutely aware of being in harm’s way, even within the walls of his own sanctuary, exposing not only himself to danger but possibly his family as well.”
Every good officer deserves every ounce of our respect, and so do their families. Day after day, they see and hear things many of us fortunately never will.
And to infer any wrongdoing on the part of our region’s officers and deputies solely by the actions of others in cities like Kenosha, Wis., or Minneapolis, Minn., is unfair and unjust.
Let’s not overlook the fact we’re all innocent — including police officers — until proven guilty. There are facts and circumstances that cannot be seen on the videos captured by officers or bystanders.
This apology is for all — you, your family and neighbors — subscribers, or not.
We’re fortunate to largely avoid racial tensions more common in our nation’s cities. That said, it would be an oversight to not mention Wednesday’s front page coverage updating Mark Domino’s pending criminal trial on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing an officer stemming from an incident last summer when Domino, a Black man, was incorrectly suspected of being a vehicle prowler. Domino has filed a $5 million tort claim against the city of Clarkston over the incident.
Perhaps we’re not entirely immune.
Regardless of political stripe, many of us are frustrated, even angry, about what’s happening in the world around us.
It’s been a tough year — the pandemic, masks versus no mask, a sluggish Main Street economy, the growing monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon, political polarity and toxicity, business pressures and local retail closures.
Every day we roll into the Tribune parking lot, it’s our mission to build up our towns, our people, our business community, our relationships — and people I admire said we did the opposite.
My hope? They’ll eventually offer this well-intended, independent newspaper some grace and forgiveness.
And let’s not overlook the underlying premise of the cartoon: Black people in many parts of our country are fearful of the police, and for those of us who didn’t live through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this is the most widespread division we’ve ever experienced in the country we all love.
Standing up for “liberty and justice for all” requires hard work and resolve from us all, and if there are local improvements to be made, this newspaper will help our law-enforcement leaders toward that end. I made that promise to every police chief, officer and sheriff I’ve spoken with.
Let’s meet via Zoom.
Email me at email@example.com and I’ll share a Zoom invite for 5 p.m. Wednesday.
If there’s anything your Tribune and I can do to help close any and all divides in our communities, we’re in.
What questions and ideas do you have? Let’s find answers and solutions, rather than illustrate problems.
We’re not perfect. We’re humble in our pursuits, and willing to admit our errors.
Let’s work to find more common ground, and together we will improve the cities, counties and towns we call home.
Let’s do this together, please.
Alford is editor and publisher of the Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2208.