SCHENECTADY — Criticism of The Daily Gazette mounted Wednesday over its publication of a syndicated cartoon depicting a white police officer shooting a Black man in the back.
Police leaders condemned the cartoon and the decision to publish it, many readers poured out their thoughts and the Glenville Town Board passed a resolution voicing support for its own Police Department and calling on The Gazette to apologize.
The four-panel illustration by Chris Britt through Creators Syndicate was published in The Gazette on Monday. It shows a beefy policeman blasting a Black man five times in the back with his service pistol while saying “You have the right to remain.” The final panel shows the man lying on the ground, spattered with blood and five holes in his shirt, below the word “silent.”
It is an obvious reference to a Kenosha, Wis., police officer shooting Jacob Blake in the back Aug. 23, though Blake was shot seven times and was wearing a white tank top, rather than a white T-shirt with sleeves, as the man in the cartoon is. Also, Blake lunged into a vehicle before he was shot, while the man in the cartoon is standing quietly.
Gazette Editor Miles Reed addressed the criticism Wednesday:
“We’re sorry that some readers were upset by the cartoon, but we felt it was a valid commentary on something very real that’s happening in America today.
“Communities all across the nation are having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice and all kinds of related issues. The most recent shootings in Wisconsin — and, more importantly, the aftermath — are part of that reckoning.”
Some people aren’t buying that, though.
The Daily Gazette’s Facebook page has received comments about the cartoon posted on nearly every story — even an article on a jazz concert series.
Congressional candidate Liz Joy, who is running against Democrat Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, excoriated The Gazette on Facebook, drawing applause from dozens.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo made a more measured post along the same lines and drew more than 200 comments in support, with one lone commenter saying he was appalled that people are more upset with a symbolic cartoon than the real-life police killings of Black people it is based on.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford and Schenectady community activist William Rivas both reacted in a similar fashion: The Gazette did a disservice to the community by publishing the illustration on its Opinion page Monday, they said.
“Clearly I’m not thrilled with the optics,” Clifford said. “When I saw it — I’m not going to say I was stunned — I was not happy.”
He recognizes that the point of editorial cartoons is to make people think and spark conversation, but said this was the wrong way to attempt that goal. Also, he added, thought and conversation are already happening in Schenectady — police leaders and 30 community leaders meet every other week to address the issues that have come to a head, again, this summer.
Clifford said the cartoon hurt Schenectady police officers, as well.
“I recognize it was satire, but it was extreme,” he said. “It both slandered them and it furthers the public’s sense that we don’t have legitimacy in the community.”
Rivas said violent incidents by police against blacks are well-documented by now, and publishing cartoon renderings does not aid in the attempt to reduce such abuses.
“My concern is just what we’re living with right now, the narrative that’s being painted,” he said.
“We see enough of it on TV in the Black community. To see it in the community newspaper was really disheartening.”
The efforts he and other community members and police leaders are taking to change the narrative are what need to be publicized, Rivas said, adding that The Gazette and other media outlets have been doing that.
“[Gazette reporter] Pete DeMola is at a lot of community events, he’s done a lot of good stories,” Rivas said.
“Utilizing an image like that I feel puts us a few steps back.”
The Glenville Town Board voted unanimously Wednesday for the resolution supporting the town police, taking The Gazette to task and calling for federal hate crimes laws to be expanded to protect police.
“Seeing that cartoon in the newspaper made me sick to my stomach,” said Councilwoman Gina Wierzbowski, who read the resolution aloud at the meeting.
It was an “egregious” wrong to all police departments, not just Glenville’s, Councilman Michael Aragosa said.
Society is growing too polarized, Councilman Michael Godlewski said — the news media should bring people together, not further divide them.
Town Supervisor Christopher Koetzle said the cartoon served to inflame people and stoke hate. “I know that we’re better than that cartoon,” he said. “That did not reflect the men and women of the Glenville Police Department.”
Cartoonist Britt is listed on the Creators Syndicate website as a self-described liberal whose work is often outrageous. Other Britt cartoons have prompted blowback — one at Christmastime in 2014 showed a cluster of young Black children asking the department store Santa to “Keep us safe from the police.”
His recent work includes other bloodied Black corpses, pig-like right-wing gun goons and a Hitler-esque President Trump, sometimes in nightmare or dystopian landscapes.
The Britt cartoon referencing the Kenosha shooting is relatively straightforward in comparison, with no mention of the rioting and the right vs. left violence that followed.
Gazette Editor Reed said the decision to publish it was not to paint police with a broad brush, but to reflect a variety of opinions.
The Gazette has also been criticized harshly when it ran a cartoon depicting a Black thug robbing a white woman and another of a Hispanic gang member sneaking across the U.S. border.
“It is not our goal to upset people or to disparage citizens, good police officers or those who support them, but to reflect what some in our community are feeling,” Reed said.
“First and foremost, the Opinion Page is just what it says — a page of opinions. We feel strongly about our commitment to publishing a wide array of viewpoints on all kinds of matters, locally, nationally and internationally. This includes the editorials, the op-ed columns, the letters to the editor and the political cartoons.
“We understand that sometimes there are views expressed that may be off-putting to some readers. But we do our best to allow everyone an opportunity to have their say.”