Over the past few days, my newspaper won the top prizes in its category for the Virginia Press Association awards and my wedding photographer won a Pulitzer. I want to make a joke about the candid photo of me on my main page now is priceless, but Ryan took a photo of a tragic event.
It makes being enthused about this award awkward.
I’m sure you all know what happened in Charlottesville over the summer. I’m also sure you know that Charlottesville is no more racist than your average American city, so don’t be afraid to come here. In my younger, single days, I would have found a belly of the beast to live in out of spite, but I have a wife and want to have children and have no problem with doing it here. Other than wanting to land in a larger metropolitan area a few fives of years from now because my wife is from New York and I know there are aspects of life in an Alpha City she misses with every fiber of her being.
But we were struck with tragedy. Unlike other municipalities that responded to America’s most recent public racial strife with the swift removal of Confederate symbols, Charlottesville is hampered by state law. The City Council made decisions in part to challenge that law, which made it the target of provocateurs. That situation escalated quickly, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout for years to come, unfortunately. The only comment I will make is that our state government needs to get out of policing the minutiae of local government, especially since that largely doesn’t apply to fiscal issues. Being a Dillon Rule state keeps Richmond from bailing out cities like Petersburg, but Richmond can force cities and counties to keep war memorials they no longer want. I say we should let them have more home rule, and if it leads to statues going up or coming down with each successive city council or board of supervisors, so be it.
But I am wavering into being subjective.
And I digress.
I can’t imagine how it felt to capture something that marked the end of someone’s life, that marked the end of the illusion that America has moved beyond the mess that caused my mom to graduate from a segregated high school and made my grandmother fear traveling on unlit roads at night and enter a local grocery store through the back door even into the 1990s. If I were him, and it wasn’t my last day in journalism, I don’t know if I could have come back for another day of journalism.
And I’ve seen some things.
It’s part of the reason I know I can’t hack it as a beat reporter. I can handle that stuff, but my life cannot be just the accounting of human suffering. Those people need a voice, but I can do that but so many times. In my early reporting days, I tried to write fully about murder victims. It got overwhelming.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way.
But we have to do this.
If we don’t show humans at their worst, who will?
Who will tell these stories in an attempt to shame us all into being better to each other?
Who will pop the bubbles of the insulated?
Who will show those in similar situations the cold comfort of not being alone?
This is why I do this. This is why so many of us do this until we can’t anymore.
Collectively, as journalists, we can’t give up. And please don’t give up on us. Our humanity depends on it.