Dear Public Editor of The New York Times:

In reference to the Nov. 28 story by Steve Barnes, “Suspect Arrested in Fatal Beating of Little Rock TV Anchor”….

Mr. Barnes wrote — or an editor inserted — this paragraph:

“The victim lived in a rented cottage-style house in the affluent Pulaski Heights neighborhood, the Country Club of Little Rock only three blocks from her front door. The poor section of the city where Mr. Vance was apprehended exudes a sense of menace, with crimes against people and property as common on its streets as they were essentially unheard of along the lanes that surround Ms. Pressly’s former address.”

Really? Is this really in The New York Times, with President-elect Obama just a few pages away?
I’ve never been to the poor section of that city, but I have been a reporter walking into neighborhoods where upper-class reporters could feel “menaced,” and I can promise you that if you get out of your Prius, take the time to knock on those doors, talk TO those people before you write ABOUT them without meeting them, you will find a majority of law-abiding, church-going, decent-to-the-bones human beings who feel far more menaced by poverty and systemic oppression and the minority of thugs in their neighbhorhood than any white reporter (including myself.) How many cliches can I fit in here to make this point that is, itself, a cliche?
Do I even have to write this?? I mean, have you been to Hyde Park where the Obamas live? Lotta “menace” within a mile or two.
What does that even mean? “This reporter was scared? If this reporter lived here he’d feel menaced. I’m white and rich, they’re black and poor, I feel uncomfortable and unnerved. That must mean they’re menacing. …..”

I know he tried to make it accurate by adding that crimes against property and people are rampant…but we are all sophisticated enough to know that those books are cooked. What the police go after and where they focus their attention and whom they focus their neighborhood round ups on are not the only neighborhoods where crimes are being committed. Where I went high school, rich and poor kids used drugs. The poor kids went to jail. The rich ones went to rehab. Same drugs.

And not to rely too much on the facts, but within those gorgeous, wealthy neighborhoods like the one the victim lived in, there live men who rape and pillage, who shoot and snort drugs, who beat or molest their loved ones mercilessly, who make gazillions of dollars driving companies into the ground and cause financial, emotional and physical devastation to tens of thousands of working class and elderly Americans by stealing their pensions and cutting off their health care…and these people in these affluent neighborhoods ARE THE REAL MENACE!!!!
Mr. Barnes reports that “the Country Club of Little Rock is only three blocks from her front door.” What is that code for? What is that supposed to mean to us?

I’m offended as a reader; I’m offended as a former metro newspaper reporter.
I am outraged as somebody who reports on cases of innocent people imprisoned. I have no idea if the African-American man pictured next to the beautiful, white, blonde female victim is guilty or innocent. I know an unspeakable crime has been committed and the right murderer must be caught. What I also know is that despite the fact that the police are not revealing any motive or evidence (which they usually leak all over the place by now), this guy is going to be found guilty and get the death penalty. Now those of us have more than enough work trying to get innocent people of color off death row for cases of white victims. We don’t need another one where the cops are whipped up by the family and public and press to catch somebody — anybody (black) — to close the damn case.

In 10 or 12 or 22 years I don’t want to be working on the case of Mr. Curtis L. Vance, the African-American man police accuse of this awful crime. I want them to catch the real guy, who, statisically, is probably white, and is probably somebody she has known and/or loved. Now there’s a menace.

Pamela Cytrynbaum
Oregon State University