Protesters stage a "die-in" on Aurora Street on Monday night. (Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs/Ithaca Voice)

Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial written by Jeff Stein, editor of the Ithaca Voice.

As always, we encourage readers to submit alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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Ithaca, N.Y. — Last night, the Ithaca Voice reported on a protest on Aurora Street. The story generated hundreds of heated responses on our Facebook page, including the following:

— Calls for violence against protesters: “Break out the beanbag shotguns pepper grenades and zip ties.”

— Calls for violence against police: “SPEAK TO COPS IN A LANGUAGE THEY UNDERSTAND” was written on one photo, which showed a police officer’s brains getting blown out by a revolver.

— More calls for harm against the protesters: “I hope they lay there until justice is served! Maybe by then they will all starve to death and rid us of their stupidity.”

These comments don’t really represent arguments. They don’t even really represent “thoughts,” at least as the word is meant to be used. They’re just venom — dangerous demonizations of massive groups, symptomatic of a refusal to recognize the basic humanity of those who are different.

Are there some protesters who are more interested in making a scene than achieving justice? Probably. Are there some cops who do more harm than good? Certainly.

Does that mean the protesters should be automatically criticized for staging a peaceful protest? Of course not: I highly doubt that even the most virulent opponents of Monday’s protests in Ithaca would disavow America’s glorious history of civil disobedience. Similarly, it’s obviously wrong — unequivocally, heinously wrong — to call for violence against police, especially given the known real world impacts of doing so.

Protesters stage a “die-in” on Aurora Street on Monday night. (Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs/Ithaca Voice)
Protesters stage a “die-in” on Aurora Street on Monday night. (Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs/Ithaca Voice)

There’s an irony here about the wild emotions flung at both the police and the protesters: Ostensibly at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both “sides” are in fact unified by the same putrid, indiscriminating hate. In that way, both extreme cop-bashers and over-the-top critics of the protests are actually much more closely related than either would comfortably admit. And, therefore, they are both similarly useless for those interested in actually fixing the country’s problems.

Now, it’s not wise for an editor to criticize a part of the audience that makes his livelihood possible. The need for caution is doubly important when the publisher’s operation is still in its infancy. I get something close to vertigo when I realize that the Ithaca Voice didn’t have so much as a single reader less than a year ago. I’m fully aware that our loyal audience is both precious and tenuous.

But I didn’t get here by refusing to take risks. So, I’m issuing the following challenge: I dare the Ithaca Voice commenters — at least the ones who so stridently made their views known last night — to try harder, and think more critically, and make an attempt at empathy, before calling huge numbers of complete strangers evil.

Is this a hopelessly naive request? Maybe. But I fail to see why we as a society have reporters at all but precisely to make such calls to action.

Journalists labor to show the world as it is. If readers are interested in only seeing what they want to see, why bother to do so at all? Why provide a forum for community discussion if it will simply be hijacked by the loudest voices in the room? (And if this is this case, why shouldn’t I find a profession that, you know, actually pays well?)

A few Ithaca Voice readers did leave insightful, thoughtful comments last night. In doing so, they showed the potential for a medium that fosters substantive debates about our city’s most important issues. But judging from last night, we still have far — very far — to go before that ideal is realized.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.