I appreciate the critical scrutiny Mike Miner gave my reporting on police abuses in Chicago public housing in his July 29 column [Hot Type]. He raises important questions that I hope readers of the ongoing series Kicking the Pigeon on “The View From the Ground” (www.viewfromtheground.com) will carry forward with them as the narrative unfolds.
How are we to judge the reliability of a reporter? How is his work shaped by his personal and professional relationships? How does he come to know what he claims to know about the world? These are legitimate questions for readers to ask as they assess a work of reporting. No journalist who seeks to be accountable to his subject and his readers can reasonably object to such scrutiny. My purpose here is thus to deepen the questions raised in the column and to add some of my own.
The “View” series describes the circumstances that gave rise to Bond v. Utreras, et al, a federal civil rights case. Miner asks whether I have uncritically accepted plaintiff Diane Bond’s version of events, while neglecting that of the defendant police officers. This question goes to the heart of what I am attempting to do in Kicking the Pigeon.
We are now at midpoint in the series. I have presented detailed accounts of the incidents from Ms. Bond’s point of view, as corroborated by other witnesses, and in the context of patterns of abuses long reported by community members. These narratives stand juxtaposed to the officers’ denial that they had any contact with Ms. Bond on the dates in question. Miner characterizes my treatment of the officers’ position as “perfunctory,” but in fact, as will become apparent, that is all there is. There is no counternarrative–just flat denial.
This opposition between what the community claims to know and the blanket denial of the officers frames the next phase of Kicking the Pigeon.
I ask that readers keep open the questions Miner raises about my approach, as the series now moves to examine how the Chicago Police Department comes to not know what it claims not to know. How does it go about investigating citizen complaints of police misconduct? What are its policies and practices with respect to monitoring and disciplining police personnel?
Finally, to the questions Miner raises, I would add these: What if the reporting in “The View From the Ground” proves accurate? What if the Bond case is shown to be one instance of a broad pattern of human-rights abuses by particular police officers? What if it is demonstrated that those officers have acted with impunity because of the policies and practices of the CPD and other city agencies? What will be revealed thereby about the quality of reporting by Chicago journalists, both mainstream and alternative, on the policing of public-housing communities during these years of “transformation”?