Hearing your truth

Readers are passionately debating whether ‘killer cop’ article elevated or exposed the fired officer who killed Joseph Mann. It’s our profound honor to listen.

This is an extended version of a column that appears in the December 21, 2017, issue.

I’ve been thinking a lot about intention and effect lately. Since reaction to last week’s cover story erupted on social media, it’s all I’ve thought about. For those who didn’t see it—or actively avoided it—the December 14 feature, “Confessions of a killer cop,” explored the lives and tragic intersection of John Tennis and Joseph Mann. One is a white ex-cop. The other was the black man he killed.

For many, seeing Tennis on the cover was a traumatic ambush. Many interpreted it as SN&R elevating a symbol of white violent oppression while diminishing the black human being this symbol got away with killing. Many read the story as a platform rather than a dissection—of an officer with a pattern of violent confrontations; who was under investigation at the time of the Mann shooting; and who was fired for his actions.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I think the story plainly showed Tennis for who he is. It also showed how systems designed to protect us rationalize or flatly ignore the warning signs. But more than any of that, it showed you the real Joseph Mann.

Shortly after Tennis contacted us, I reached out to the Mann family and let them know. I asked for their help and they generously agreed, sharing their memories, photographs and grief. They helped me overcome the tragic fact that Joe is no longer around to tell his own story. They gave me pieces of their already broken hearts and brought a loved one back to life.

They’ve since told me they feel the story captured the Joe they knew and that earlier coverage got wrong—and that it incriminated Tennis as someone who needs to be prosecuted for his actions.

But I’ve also heard an outpouring of anger and heartbreak from people I deeply respect, who feel the story was too easy on Tennis or shouldn’t have been written at all.

How could we put an unrepentant killer on the cover, no matter what the intent or treatment? Don’t we know what a traumatic affront that is to historically oppressed communities that suffer from the likes of him? That already feel ignored or unheard by the media? That never get their justice nor their peace?

These are valid questions that are bigger than me or this one story. To me, they’re also a sign that people know this newspaper belongs to them, not us. I’m grateful to those who are sharing their truths and demanding that we remain a platform for those who need us most. I hope they continue to do so. It may be my job to listen, but it’s my honor to hear you.