Monday, December 31, 2012

There go my heroes (2012)


SOMETIMES, it’s easy to look the other way about things we know we should do. The flood of misfortune, chaos and disorder that forms the backdrop wash of our daily lives make it hard to really see what needs to be seen.

Larry DePrimo could have done the New York City okey-doke, walking past the homeless, unidentified, shoeless man he encountered while walking a beat on Seventh Avenue and 44th Street in Manhattan on Nov. 14.

Anthony DeStefano of Newsday reports on a warm heart on a cold night:

“I had two pairs of wool winter socks and combat boots, and I was cold," DePrimo, 25, said Wednesday, recalling the night of Nov. 14, when he encountered an unidentified, shoeless man on the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue near 44th Street.

DePrimo offered to get him socks and shoes.

“I never had a pair of shoes,” the man replied, according to DePrimo, who's assigned to the Sixth Precinct and has been on the force nearly three years.

The officer walked to a Skechers store on 42nd Street and shelled out $75 for insulated winter boots and thermal socks. He returned to the man, knelt down and put the footwear on him.

“He smiled from ear to ear,” DePrimo said. “It was like you gave him a million dollars.”

The officer asked the man if he wanted a cup of coffee, but he graciously declined and went on his way.

“I didn't think anything of it,” DePrimo said of his generosity.

Somebody did. A lot of somebodies. DeStefano reports that, as it turns out, Jennifer Foster visiting the city from Florence, Ariz., took DePrimo’s picture and took it viral. It’s on the NYPD Facebook page. As of today, the picture has more than 618,000 Likes.

There are 8.24 million stories in the city of New York. This is one of the better ones. One that ennobles all of us.

◊ ◊ ◊

IN A TIME when insensitivity almost seems to be a badge of honor, when candor is prized above all else, a North Carolina newspaper’s editorial decision is a hopeful sign. Some months before the film “Django Unchained” was released, and after some in the mainstream media accidentally brought the debate about “nigger,” the n-word, front and center all over again, editor Jeff Gauger of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., took an action that suggests that maybe we haven’t all thrown decorum out the window after all.

The newspaper reported in July about a banner bearing a racial epithet that was hung at a school district’s office, the latest flap in a dispute over the movement of a Confederate soldier monument in nearby Reidsville. The paper reported that the banner “included 21 words printed … in red and black ink, a racial epithet, a reference to the Ku Klux Klan and a pledge to ‘get our monument back.’”

Gauger ordered that a picture of the banner be smudged to blur the n-word. The editor defended his decision to the Journal-Isms media diversity blog, saying that "doing so best reflected the taste boundaries of our community.”

Gauger wrote to Journal-Isms editor Richard Prince in an e-mail: “[E]diting is one part knowing and reflecting the taste expectations of your community, and one part leading your community toward its better self.

“We blurred the N-word because, after discussion among a half-dozen editors, I decided that doing so best reflected the taste boundaries of our community. The editors' opinions were not unanimous. The decision was mine alone.

“In deciding, I thought of rape victims, whom newspapers almost uniformly do not identify. In a more perfect world, we would routinely identify them because there is no shame in being a victim. The taste boundaries of most communities do not permit us to.

“As rendered, the published photo left no question as to what the word was, even with the blurring. It matched our expression of the word in text, as 'N-----.' Our published report was both complete and respectful of our community's sense of itself.”

I propose a toast: Here’s to a newspaper editor for respecting his readers, honoring his state and his profession, and having the good sense and taste to realize that just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.

Image credits: DePrimo and homeless man: © 2012 Jennifer Foster. NYPD logo: © New York City Police Department. Jeff Gauger: News & Record. Banner: Rockingham County Sheriff's Office/News & Record.

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