Hartford Mayor Protests Hate Speech On Courant Website
By JEFFREY B. COHEN And DANIEL E. GOREN | Courant Staff Writers
June 21, 2008
Mayor Eddie A. Perez ratcheted up his campaign against "racist comments and hate speech" posted by readers on Courant.com Friday by holding a protest outside the newspaper's Broad Street headquarters.
Surrounded by a few dozen state and municipal elected officials, members of community organizations and city employees, Hartford's mayor stood in front of The Courant to take it to task.
"Let me begin by making it clear that this is not, this is not about free speech," Perez said. "This is about asking the corporate citizen in our community not to provide a platform for hate and racist material in our community."
"Enough is enough," Perez said to applause. "Enough is enough."
The rally comes at the end of a week in which Perez issued two press releases targeting the reader comments, and wrote a letter to the newspaper's publisher demanding that The Courant stop the anonymous postings.
In a letter circulated at the rally, Perez said he wants the newspaper to "recognize its role in facilitating hate speech through its website and make an appropriate apology to the community;" to require people commenting online to register their names; to commit to assign a "community manager" to "facilitate dialogue and prevent racist and violent posts from dominating the comments sections;" and to convene a citizen advisory group.
On Thursday, the newspaper's publisher, Stephen D. Carver, wrote Perez back, saying that the website is a reflection of "a free society working at its best and at its worst." Carver said the reader comment board is valuable, if imperfect. After Friday's event, Carver said that the newspaper's online comment board would improve.
"We're definitely going to work the problem harder," he said.
A flier distributed by city staff at the event cites "racist hate speech" from the newspaper's website following two recent violent incidents — the beating and mugging of former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone, and the hit-and-run that left 78-year-old Angel Arce Torres paralyzed from the neck down — as the rally's justification.
Angel Arce, the paralyzed man's son, questioned the rally and wondered whether it was a waste of time.
"This has been going on for years and then this happens to my father and all the sudden they decide to protest?" he said, standing down the block from Perez Friday. Arce said he was invited to come to the rally, saw what was happening, and decided to leave. "This is not going to help. This is not going to help them catch who did this for my father."
He said he feels no anger toward the newspaper for what readers post on its website, and he noted that the sympathy cards for his father have come from all races and ethnicities.
"All I know is that there are white people all throughout the country who are sending my father get well cards," Arce said. "Tons of them."
William Griggs came to the rally with a sign with a message for Perez: "Hey Eddie, you need to be this angry about real problems."
Griggs, an employee of New Mass Media Inc., a subsidiary of The Courant, took criticism for his dissent from some city employees, including Lew Brown, the former local radio and television reporter who now works part-time for the Perez administration.
Griggs, a longtime resident of the city and a graduate of Hartford Public High School, said he too is outraged by the online comments, but wants Perez to do more about issues such as public safety.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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