Posted on April 7, 2005

Crime Drawing Strikes a Nerve

Comics Journal, April 5, 2005

So there’s a paper in Seattle called the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal. They run a “police blotter” column, which they have been hiring different cartoonists to illustrate, Rick and Johnny among them. Both artists were recently taken to task for their so-called “racist” illustrations, which they for some reason found perfectly appropriate for print (until someone complained). The editor offered a FRONT PAGE apology to his readers, which you can view here.

A couple weeks ago Rick drew an illustration about a lady going crazy and having to be hauled off by cops. The lady (and one of the cops) was drawn as an African-American. Big deal, right? Crazies come in all colors. But apparently it was cause for some concern.

In a subsequent issue, Johnny was asked to illustrate an incident wherein a husband-and-wife robber team held a white guy up at knifepoint. The duo was still at large and Johnny was INSTRUCTED to draw them according to the police description—a description which included their race (black).

From the get-go the editor seemed worried, telling Johnny he “only mentioned their race” because they were still at large. So when Johnny submitted his drawing, he freaked and asked Johnny to RE-draw them as white people. Johnny refused, since a) it was a lie, b) they were still at large, so drawing them white would be not only cowardly and disingenuous on the paper’s part, but could even be dangerous to readers who might come across the thieves.

So apparently it’s okay to write about black people holding up a white guy (a REAL INCIDENT), but to illustrate said incident goes over the line. Would it have been okay to print a photograph of the act? Should they be illustrating the police blotter in any form? Who knows?

Well, the drawing appeared as-is (with the couple drawn black, as they’d been described) and the trouble began. There were numerous reader complaints, and word is, the NAACP got on board.

The paper announced plans to cease illustrating the police blotter column in future issues and printed a front-page apology this week, basically passing the blame to Rick and Johnny for the oversight. “Tight deadlines” and all that.

Something else that’s curious . . . when the incident appeared in the paper, the race of everyone involved was mentioned as part of the story. After all, these are identifying characteristics. However, after the complaints, the newspaper published a version of the story that omitted the offenders’ race. (Click here to see.)

If this is what passes for a decent paper these days, I can see why so many people read The Onion.