Police in Norfolk, Va., are slamming the city’s newspaper for its portrayal of a mob attack by large numbers of black teenagers against a young white couple in a car, a case which has sparked national outrage in the last 24 hours.
“That’s what happens when [an opinion columnist] reports the news, not bound by the facts of the case,” said Chris Amos, public-information officer for the Norfolk Police Department.
As WND reported yesterday in a story posted on the popular Drudge Report, the couple was pummeled April 14 by dozens of black teens, and the Virginian-Pilot newspaper did not report the incident for two weeks, despite the fact the victims, Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami, are both news reporters for the paper.
Today, police tell WND they’re not sure if the attack was racially motivated.
“Could it have been? Yeah, it could have, I guess,” said police spokesman Chris Amos. “We certainly haven’t ruled that out, but we haven’t seen anything that jumps out at us other than someone throwing a rock at someone’s car.”
“A whole lot of racial implications have been made. We don’t know the motive of this. Race didn’t become a factor until Twitter comments later. No one at the scene said it was racially motivated. They didn’t tell us then and they didn’t hear any [comments such as] ‘Remember Trayvon Martin.’”
Trayvon Martin is the unarmed black teen who died after being shot by a community-watch captain with white and Hispanic parents, George Zimmerman, in Sanford, Fla., sparking a wave of outrage long after the incident.
Amos is critical of Pilot columnist Michelle Washington for mischaracterizing the crime in her opinion piece, as the paper still has not published a news account.
He says the victims indeed were coming home from a theater show that Saturday night, when they were stopped at a traffic light.
A crowd of black teens was on a nearby sidewalk. The Pilot columnist said the crowd was at least 100.
“We don’t have number, it’s fluid,” said Amos. “It seems like the number continues to grow, but we weren’t there. So we’re kind of at the mercy of our victims.”
When a rock was thrown at the car, Forster got out of the vehicle to confront the thrower, and that’s when the beating began.
“Wave after wave of young men surged forward to take turns punching and kicking their victim,” Washington wrote in her opinion piece. “The victim’s friend, a young woman, tried to pull him back into his car. Attackers came after her, pulling her hair, punching her head and causing a bloody scratch to the surface of her eye. She called 911. A recording told her all lines were busy. She called again. Busy. On her third try, she got through and, hysterical, could scream only their location. Church and Brambleton. Church and Brambleton. Church and Brambleton. It happened four blocks from where they work, here at the Virginian-Pilot.”
“The responding officer coded the incident as a simple assault, despite their assertions that at least 30 people had participated in the attack,” Washington wrote. “A reporter making routine checks of police reports would see ‘simple assault’ and, if the names were unfamiliar, would be unlikely to write about it. In this case, editors hesitated to assign a story about their own employees. Would it seem like the paper treated its employees differently from other crime victims?”
Today, police confirm the couple was indeed punched and kicked, but said neither suffered serious injuries, and refused to be brought to the hospital.
Amos says the first police unit arrived on scene within a minute of the 911 call, and the crowd was dispersed immediately by flashing lights and sirens.
He says Rostami, who is white and of Persian ethnicity, was “very emotional” after the onslaught, but Forster “was pretty calm, cool and collected considering what he had been through.”
Amos says the paper’s account of what the responding officer told the victims is grossly inaccurate.
The Pilot indicated Rostami “says the officer told her to shut up and get in the car. Both said the officer did not record any names of witnesses who stopped to help. Rostami said the officer told them the attackers were ‘probably juveniles anyway. What are we going to do? Find their parents and tell them?’ The officer pointed to public housing in the area and said large groups of teenagers look for trouble on the weekends. ‘It’s what they do,’ he told Forster.”
Police give a different version, as Amos says the responding officer gave the couple his business card, and he “vehemently denies the conversation reported in the Pilot.”
“Using his discretion for their further well-being and safety,” Amos explains, the officer told the victims, “‘Call me. I’ll finish the report. It’s best if you got out of here.’” Officers were simultaneously called to a report of shots fired in a nearby neighborhood.
The couple then met with the officer on Monday, April 16, to finish providing information.
When asked why this case was originally listed as a “simple assault,” Amos said, “There’s no code for a mob assault” in their reporting system. He says that information can be filled in manually in the narrative of the event. But if suspects are caught, they could be charged with mob assault by the commonwealth attorney.
“They’re facing felony charges, if we can find them and identify and if our victims can identify them,” he said.
While Norfolk does have some traffic cameras in certain locations, Amos says there is not one at the intersection where the crime occurred.
As far as his advice on how to handle a situation like that, Amos says perhaps the best thing to do is “just drive through the intersection and then call the police.”
He admits Norfolk Police are being flooded today with angry comments from citizens “about how incompetent we are, about how indifferent we are, about how unprofessional we are.”
But it’s not just the police facing public wrath.
The Virginian-Pilot is continuing to get hammered for still not doing a news report on the attack.
Shannon Muncy of Virginia Beach, says she’s “thoroughly disappointed in and disgusted by the Pilot. I will no longer read the Pilot. I will encourage all small business owners that I know to remove any advertising they may have. Once upon a time journalism meant that the journalists were out to provide the public with the truth – now it has simply become a liberal train ride. Here’s the information we think you need, and that’s all you will get. If it doesn’t tie in with the party line, it doesn’t hit the press.”
“This is wrong on so many levels,” adds Robert Fogle of Portsmouth, Va. “The Pilot in not reporting the story has proven itself not to be a media outlet, but a tabloid. Gone are the days that there was a journalistic code of ethics to report the news, not be the news, and let the reader decide. The police in their reaction proved that they have forgotten that their’s is a duty to protect and serve, not cop an attitude while intimidating the victim. And, as is par for the course, the leadership, or lack of leadership, at the police department closed ranks and provided an excuse for the incompetent actions of the officers. Lastly, city leadership, that will surely fail their citizens in not demanding an investigation, and holding the police accountable for failure and dereliction of duty.”
The Virginian-Pilot has a tie to President Obama, as its publisher since 2008, Maurice Jones, was nominated by Obama and recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be deputy secretary of HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The paper said he expected to start his new job in Washington on April 16, meaning he was still officially the Pilot’s publisher through the weekend of the Norfolk mob attack.
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