On Thursday, September 20, residents gathered at the Unity Sports Club on Dunbar Avenue to discuss the reaction of the media to last month's Caribbean Carnival. Representatives of cultural and religious organizations, law enforcement, and several elected officials were on hand for the meeting.
The meeting comes in the wake of the murders of two men, who were gunned down near the festival's parade route on Blue Hill Avenue on Saturday, August 25. Several more were injured or arrested near the event, although organizers protested that the carnival was unfairly portrayed as the cause of the criminal activity.
The 28th annual festival had attracted about 150,000 people and 400 police provided security. In a press conference the day after the event, one top police official, superintendent Bobbie Johnson, expressed his opinion that the "festival may have outgrown itself in this particular location."
City officials and a police spokesperson later backtracked from Johnson's position. Mayor Menino went public with his conviction that the carnival should stay at its traditional place in Roxbury and Dorchester.
At last week's meeting, a cross-cultural panel discussed concerns ranging from negative coverage of the black community, the possibility of moving the Boston Carnival and the need for more support from local elected officials.
The program began with the moderator, Dr. Patricia Cedeno-Zamor, who asked for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 11. This was followed by a poem read by Dr. Cedeno-Zamor, and the singing of "God Bless America".
Seven panelists, including Philomin Bocouard, Shirley Shillingford, Executive Director of the Caribbean Carnival Committee, and Felix Arroyo, who is running for Boston City Council, discussed the issue of the carnival's portrayal in the media.
Audience members were given cards to write down any question they wanted during the discussion. Joe Johnson of WILD radio stepped up and posed the first question: "The media that put out negative coverage are not here. They have portrayed our community as a violent one as if violence is a norm when we gather. The carnival was a powerful event, but unfortunately it was not portrayed as such. Why?"
Shillingford, the longtime organizer of the carnival, said that the media, specifically The Boston Globe, has consistently given negative coverage of the carnival since 1993.
"The Globe constantly wrote negative things about the events done by people of the Caribbean," Shillingford said. "I confronted the Globe, which prompted a forum at the Globe. I gave them all sorts of logistics regarding the carnival, but yet what I said was never printed because they don't like to print anything positive, only negative!" She also pointed out that many media outlets did not attend the Unity Sports Club event, even after they were sent a press release.
"When it's positive they don't show up, but if there was a shooting they'd be the first ones here," Shillingford said.
She went on to explain how negative coverage effects future sponsorship. This past year's event was the first time that Verizon sponsored the event. However, as a result of the "negativity", Verizon has asked for a report. Tourism is also affected, Shillingford claims, because the media has tainted the community. One panelist stated that we have to stand up and let them know who we are because the carnival represents the Caribbean at large, and negative coverage stems from ignorance.
Several panelists insisted that the shootings of August 25 occurred before and after the carnival and were not actually on the route of the parade. Although the shootings had nothing to do with the carnival, they claimed, the media connected the two.
Someone from the audience voiced her anger by saying, "The media always seem to connect the two when people of different ethnic cultures get together. That is a lack of respect to a community."
Paul Lewis, a panelist, stressed how voting is even more important now than ever before.
"We have to demand respect for this community or we won't get any. If we pay taxes our voices should be heard," Lewis said.
One police officer claimed that the community was not doing enough to make the Carnival a better run event. He shared his story of how on the day of the Puerto Rican carnival, he had been asked to work a detail but was later told that he was no longer needed. When he asked why, he was told that the Spanish community demanded Spanish-speaking officers to be stationed at the park. He challenged the Caribbean Committee to do the same and questioned why they had never done it before.
Felix Arroyo interjected by adding that all groups should support and empower each other.
"When we do that we will get respect, then the powers who are trying to divide will not succeed," Arroyo said.
When the police officer was asked if there is support from the police for the carnival, he answered, "We can't support it if the community is not demanding it."