Why Is Mattapan Mad At The Media?

Because we parachute in only when bad things happen. At least that’s what I’m hearing.

One thing is clear: Reporters were not welcome at Wednesday’s double-funeral for Eyanna Flonory and Amani Smith. And we weren’t allowed at the funeral the day before, for Simba Martin. The funeral next Monday for the fourth murder victim, Lavaughn Washum-Garrison, is also closed-press.

When I arrived yesterday morning at Morning Star Baptist Church, on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan, an usher immediately spotted me and said, “Press?” I guess I didn’t look like I belonged.

The church was ready for us. I was introduced to the press liaison, who told me where I could sit and what I could (not) do. No pictures, she said. The ushers reminded me again and again. No pictures.

My colleague Bianca Vazquez Toness and I found a seat at the far end of the balcony. Bianca asked two women behind us for a look at their program; the women scowled and declined.

As the service got underway, Bishop John Borders delivered clear instructions to the congregation:

I would ask you to be mindful enough of the family that if members of the press begin to question you as we’re on our way out, say to them, ‘We are going to the cemetery now. You’ll have to talk to us later.’ Because I don’t want this service to turn into anything else but a time for a community to deal with this grief and mourning and be healed.

The people chanted in approval. “Amen.”

On Tuesday, I felt like I didn’t have the right to photograph the mourners at Martin’s funeral in Roxbury, people I have never covered before. I can’t imagine anything more infuriating than a photographer in your face as you grieve. One woman shouted at me, “Don’t take her picture! Don’t do it!”

But I kept snapping, because I had to tell this story. WBUR ran the photo, as did the Globe and the Herald. No one in, say, Cambridge or Brookline would know this grief unless we showed it to them.

Sometimes reporters make people’s lives unpleasant for the greater good.

In his eulogy, Bishop Borders challenged us: “Stop recording all the bad things that happen in our neighborhood, and learn to start recording the positive things that happen in our neighborhoods.”

I hear it. Bianca and I will be digging into this story more over the next few days.

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13 thoughts on “Why Is Mattapan Mad At The Media?

  1. Emma Lathan

    Well, they are correct. It does seem like the news is only covered in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan when it’s really bad. The community things that take place in those neighborhoods of Boston (I am by the way always amused at tourism offices that try to lump Cambridge, which is NOT a neighborhood of Boston in as a Boston neighborhood and treat Dorchester and Mattapan, which are a part of Boston as if they don’t exist)almost never make the news.

    In terms of trying to humanize the people that live there, the best way to do it is to be there when the good happens as well as the bad.

  2. Alex

    I’m equally amused at the frequent confusion as to why tourism boards are more interested in promoting Cambridge than Mattapan. All other differences aside, Cambridge is just more interesting. The way tourism works is that tourists like seeing pleasant, interesting places, and it’s crazy to think that we should be forcing tourists into all of Boston’s neighborhoods.

    Why bother seeing Harvard Square when you can visit Centre Street in West Roxbury, right?

  3. Kathleen

    While the funerals are sensitive (and I’m not sure I would be happy to see the Press at one that I was attending), don’t they also represent the good of the community? People coming together to grieve and support, to speak out against the violence, to institute the grass roots change that is needed to break away from the cycle of violence.

  4. SB

    If you really believe that photographing these people in this sensitive time in their lives is essential to the greater good, the least you could do is have the nerve to walk over to them and have a conversation with them about what you are doing and why. Your storytelling will be more effective if you actually take the time to listen to their stories instead of photographing from afar and blogging about it later. WBUR listeners may be interested in why you are “making people’s lives unpleasant”. But the “unidentified woman at left” sure has the right to know.

  5. Andrew Phelps Post author

    Dear SB:

    I did try to speak with the subjects of my photographs. No journalist wants to come back to the newsroom without names. They did not want to speak to me.

    Above are some links to my news coverage of the events.

    Andrew.

  6. Heidi Fessenden

    Andrew, You should come visit my school. I teach at Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School in Mattapan, and my second grade studies the neighborhood of Mattapan as part of our year-long Boston Neighborhoods curriculum. We’d love to have you visit!

  7. Jeff Stone

    Why is anybody – not just Mattapan residents – mad at the media when they typically swoop in and exploit extreme anguish and grief for riveting visuals and sound clips? Need I say more, Andrew? I can’t believe you have to ask the question.

  8. Mary Baine Campbell

    The article is peculiar in its obstinate inability to see, or perhaps to credit, the point this community of grieving people was trying, collectively and individually, to make. But what is shocking is the use of the photograph as lead for the story. I’m ashamed to have seen it, perturbed at the editor who permitted it to head the story, and scratching my head at the reporter’s immaturity. Someone needs to have a talk with him, explaining 1) the difference between journalism and science, 2) the difference between reporting and exploitation, and 3) some basics of good manners. WBUR, a terrific radio station, still has something to learn about the world of the visual image.

  9. Andrew Phelps Post author

    Kate,

    Let me be very clear: I stood across the street from Simba Martin’s funeral — not inside the church — and I was but one of many photographers there.

    The Boston press has a responsibility to respond to criticism that we “only cover the bad stuff” in neighborhoods such as Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury. But this is a story that demands coverage, I hope you’ll agree.

    In some ways, photographs make a bigger than impact than words can. People need to wake up to the violence in this city, and I hope that startling portraits of grief will provide that wake-up call.

    Going forward, I think my — our — responsibility is to keep covering these communities, not to disappear when the story fades. Heidi, I would love to visit your school.

    I realize that people are offended by the media’s coverage of this story — by my coverage in particular — that’s why I wrote this blog post. Please understand that I come from a position of compassion, not indignation.

    Andrew.

  10. Khadijah Britton

    I find it troubling that I never even heard back from you about the Canvass for Kids this past Saturday morning. I will be attending the Halloween Block Party next to the Mattapan Public Library on October 31st, do you think you could deign to cover that?

  11. Dave Wieneke

    I got involved with this story when a well known Boston radio journalist referred to the neighborhood repeatedly as “Murderpan” in his news, even before the funerals.

    So, Andrew, how much do you actually get to control your focus day to day. Are you able to decide not to disappear in to the next fixation of the news cycle?

    The young journalists I know used to be asked to cover insufferably boring city meetings. But that changed – the stories I hear now, especially from young women journalists, are that they are asked to get quotes from and photos of grieving family members. That’s always a sad play to run…and I hear this thankless task often goes to the young.

    As for the journalist who denigrated a neighborhood before even the funerals. I hope he gets to know and care about some of the families in the story. Caring prevents the kind of dismissive snarkiness I heard on other newscasts.

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