Weekend incident calls for more facts, less speculation

It was surreal to read comments from people with strong opinions but the slimmest of facts.

  • Wednesday, July 17, 2019 11:57am
  • Opinion

Last weekend, the news that Tacoma police had killed islander Will Van Spronsen in a confrontation at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma traveled across the country and was picked up by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post before many islanders were even aware of what occurred.

As the story spread, it seemed that nearly everyone looked at it through a different lens, often focusing on elements most in line with the causes they care about. In trying to make sense of the day, it was surreal to read different accounts and comments from all over the United States, often with people weighing in with strong opinions but the slimmest of facts.

Watching this story become a storm in the media, we took stock of our position as a community newspaper and made decisions to proceed regularly in some ways and follow a different path in others. Just as with most any news story, we talked to officials and individuals close to the situation and turned to public records for other information.

We also made the conscious decision to break with protocol by not naming Van Spronsen’s ex-wife and a friend, who both requested anonymity in light of the fervor around this story. In most instances, we do not quote people anonymously, but believe their request was a reasonable one in this case.

Last Saturday afternoon, as news of what had occurred in Tacoma was beginning to spread, law enforcement personnel came to Vashon in droves — and that brought more speculation. In this case, it was that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was coming to the island. As that word spread, fear spread too. This same rumor, fanned by the flames of social media, has circulated repeatedly on the island, often when the Department of Homeland Security has been doing routine work at the ferry docks.

Given the tensions around immigration and the fear many have about mass deportations, it is not surprising that several people expressed concern. At the same time, spreading speculation as news can be like the children’s story of the little boy who cried wolf — and with real life consequences.

Many elements of last Saturday and its social media aftermath bring to mind the famed Buddhist teacher and writer Thich Nhat Hanh. He says that when ascribing intent, we need to ask ourselves: Are you sure? In some operating rooms, he says, signs are affixed to the wall for the medical teams to ask — and answer — for themselves before the surgeon makes the first cut: Are you sure? Often, he says, especially in times of great emotion, we should ask ourselves that same question. Sometimes, the answer might surprise us.

The events that took place on Saturday are many layered. In time, more clarity about what happened and why may come. But some big questions about the day may remain largely unknown.

While that process unfolds, we hope that those who are hurting will be tended to with love and that they might grow to find peace, even if answers are elusive.

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