My friend Brian Privor apparently caught some flak for his post on the state of our local criminal justice system. He also received a lot of praise for his passionate account; but some people thought he was too provocative. I had linked to the post, but I took the link down because I got a call from someone who said that some people might view it as ‘unprofessional’ (because of the use of a metaphor).
Brian and I talked about the situation yesterday, and I told him
that this kind of situation is not uncommon. There are lots of things
that I would love to blog about, or things that I would love to write
about in a certain way, but I don’t. Why? Because I’ve become aware
that, on the Internet, you have to imagine your audience as being the
entire world (because it is). The judge I used to clerk for was a
skilled politician, and when I was clerking for him he offered this
advice: "never say anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front
page of the Times Picayune."
With a blog you are speaking to a potentially much larger audience than the Times Picayune,
and also you have to remember that your post will not disappear after
one day (unless you delete it, and even then it’s not necessarily going
to vanish from the web). Many people would take my judge’s sage advice
and conclude that you should avoid all possibility of controversy.
Just stick to the safe areas, and dont’ say anything that’s too
provocative. That’s what many people would do.
Of course, that’s kind of antithetical to the foundations of this
country, since if our early leaders had shied away from giving offense
we’d possibly not be an independent nation. And we’d possibly not have
created a document that gives people the right to free speech. We all
like to celebrate democracy and free speech, but we seldom like to
acknowledge how messy and complicated democracy is. Transparency is
also hard to manage. But, in my view it’s worth it.
I liked Brian’s original post, and I liked his recent apology/explanation
too. I don’t think his original post was unprofessional, but it was
critical. Was it overly critical? Apparently some reasonable people
might disagree. I can appreciate that, and so can Brian. Unreasonable
people, however, would not just disagree, but would also try to find a
way to silence what they regard as offensive commentary. But, enough
about our society’s insidious struggle to endure the kind of free
speech that our Constitution has enabled; what about the point of
Brian’s original post? What about the state of the criminal justice
system in New Orleans right now?
In the post-Katrina world there are a lot of things that need to be
fixed, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and thereby become numb. I
feel like I’ve been numb to the problem that Brian describes. I linked
to Brian’s post because it stirred me from my torpor, and made me feel
like it was something that needed more attention.
I took the link down because I want to try to respect the feelings
of those who were offended, even if I disagree that Brian’s post was
too strong. Brian has explained it was never his intent to offend
anyone. It’s clear –to me at least– that Brian is passionate about
making this city better and that was the dominant motive for his post.
Hey, we all get passionate. If you were initially offended by
Brian’s post perhaps it’s time to look past the provocative metaphor
and consider the significant personal sacrifices he made to come to
this city to help us rebuild a critical resource. Granted, many of us
here in New Orleans are making sacrifices. So let’s not get bogged
down in criticizing people who are acting with good intentions. If
some of us are impatient it’s because we want things to get better
Impatience and brashness are sometimes a good qualities. A lot of
people thought our founding fathers were impatient and brash. Not so
much anymore, though.