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The Officer Friendly cartoon.

A cartoon depicting police officers as “fiendly” and pointing a gun at a black boy and “friendly” and waving to a white boy who had a gun, got the Virginia News and Advance in trouble this week.

Without apologizing, the News and Advance‘s editorial board responded to the “earful” of criticism in a Dec. 8 editorial.

“Many folks saw this image as an attack on the good officers and deputies in departments across Central Virginia,” the editorial board wrote. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and we deeply respect their commitment and sacrifices.”

The board wrote that the cartoon, by nationally syndicated cartoonist Pat Bagley, was intended to respond to the deaths of Eric Garner and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, both by police.

Bagley stood by the cartoon. He told iMediaEthics by e-mail that his syndiated cartoons “appear in over 800 outlets (newspapers, magazines, online pubiations…).”

“I can’t say why the News and Advance got such a flood of response when the cartoon was published in dozens of other newspapers where it didn’t create such a stir,” Bagley wrote.

He said that the complaints he heard were that he shouldn’t have criticized police. Bagley wrote:

“People in Virginia who took offense to my ‘Officer Friendly’ cartoon seem to be saying that police are above criticism. After all, cops put their lives on the line for us and their purpose is to  protect society from the ‘bad guys’ and we should be grateful. In fact, I’ve done a number of positive cartoons about police and their service to the community.

“However, police are not perfect. Though generally better than they were 50 years ago, individual police departments still harbor values that make them appear to be a threat if you are a black American. (I should mention that Salt Lake City is lucky to have one of the best, forward-thinking police chiefs in the country in Chris Burbank). Data shows that blacks are treated differently than whites. The numbers also show that if you are black, the chance of an encounter with police taking a very ugly turn go way up. My kids play with their air soft guns in my largely white neighborhood free from the fear of being shot down by a policeman who mistakes them for a shooter with a gun. Many black kids in inner-city neighborhoods, apparently, can’t afford to be so carefree.

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“The cartoon challenges people to see things as others in America experience them.”

The newspaper defended its coverage and support for Virginia’s police, pointing out it has called for local police to get better salaries, but argued that “the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities” is “a topic neither we nor the nation can ignore.”

The editorial board went on:

“We urge you not to let a political cartoon divide our community. Rather, let’s use it as a springboard to debate and dialogue, because in talking to each other, we can address and overcome problems, not succumb to them.”

The Virginia Police Benevolent Association spokesman Sean McGowan complained to WSET  that the cartoon “takes the entire law enforcement community and lumps them into one disgusting group.”

In a statement, he added:

“During my 25 year law enforcement career and during the time I have been Executive Director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association I have never before seen the level of unprofessionalism and ineptitude displayed by the author of that inappropriate cartoon, or the media that choose to distribute it. Instead of working of solutions to real issues in a constructive way they have chosen to fan the fires of hate and racism, serving no constructive purpose.

“The Virginia Police Benevolent Association stands in full support of all law enforcement professionals, confident that the voice of reason will soon be heard above the rhetoric of hate and distrust.”

Hat Tip: Jim Romenesko

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‘Officer Friendly’ cartoon shows police reacting to white, black children differently

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