A city and its newspaper growing, healing and remembering together
"Remember Matthew," said the marquee at the Garde Arts Center in the days after Matthew Chew, a pizza cook and artist, was fatally stabbed about a block away from the theatre as he walked home from work on Oct. 29, 2010.
Six teens and young men of color, one of whom later told police the group was "bored," had randomly attacked Chew, a 25-year-old white man, as he walked home from work on Huntington Street.
The incident challenged the community and The Day to do better.
We both rose to the challenge, but it's a work in progress.
On Thursday, 550 people attended the premiere of "Those People" at The Garde. The documentary, produced by Peter Huoppi of The Day and Curtis Goodwin, chronicles the New London Talent Show, which was created by Goodwin and others to provide a positive outlet for young people in the aftermath of Chew's death.
The film is an unusual collaboration between a news outlet and community members, but if you see "Those People," you'll realize the the combination of Huoppi's journalism and videography skills and Goodwin's personality and vision is transformative.
Goodwin, a change agent if we ever saw one, is now on the New London City Council. He arranged for Mayor Michael Passero to present Huoppi with a citation from the General Assembly lauding "a great collaboration between the community and The Day."
We're thrilled we could tell the story and the reception the documentary received Thursday. The talent show united, and helped heal, a grieving community. It continues to provide opportunity and hope to young people from throughout the region. Matthew Chew is remembered.
His parents, who live in California, were interviewed for the film, but couldn't make it to the premiere. The couple has generously shared their story with The Day over the past decade and consistently supported the talent show and other positive remembrances of their son. The Chews came to understand and appreciate the unorthdox but effective response to the youths' "boredom."
"At first blush, it's difficult to understand," Rick Chew said by phone Friday. "We had this heinous crime, and now we're doing a show? But if you look underneath, yes."
"The movie is a positive piece," Chew said. "And if it sparks discussion, that's maybe something The Day can do to contribute to the conversation."
The conversation is continuing internally at The Day, too.
A couple of weeks ago, a respected member of the community reminded me, over coffee, that he and a few others came to our building 10 years ago to speak to us about our decision to publish the youths' mug shots across the top of the front page. They said the coverage didn't paint the Black community in a good light.
I don't remember exactly what we said at the time, but I'm sure we explained that our decision to publish the photos so prominently had to do with the magnitude of the crime and its newsworthiness. We covered the Chew story thoroughly, from attending community forums where city residents struggled with fear and anger, to interviewing Chew's family, reaching out to the young men's families, reporting every detail of the court proceedings as they unfolded and writing about the talent show each year.
What would we do different in 2021?
Much has happened in the decade since Chew's death, including a national reckoning on systemic racism and discussions of how the Black community is portrayed in the media. At The Day, we formed a Diversity Committee that is working to make the company more reflective of the community we live and work in and to make our coverage more inclusive. We'll tell you more about the committee in the coming months.
I asked the Diversity Committee to discuss whether we would make the same decision about the mugshots today. We concluded we would, but discussed the ongoing need to go beyond crime and sports reporting in our coverage of the Black and other minority communities.
"I got into the business because I was tired of how people who looked like me were portrayed in the media," said Izaskun Larrañeta, The Day's managing editor and chair of the Diversity Committee. "I wanted to effectuate change from the inside. So let me assure you that the decision to run the photos of the Black and brown young men who were arrested was not taken lightly. If they were white, Asian, whatever race, we would have run them too. This was a horrific crime, and as journalists it's our job to tell the entire story, and that includes photos."
We want the entire community to know we're listening, and will continue to have these difficult conversations. It's our responsibility, and our privilege, to learn and grow along with you.
Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We had a full house as we resumed our Trivia on Tap series this week, where teams of players sampled craft beers at Tox Brewery in New London and took their best guesses at local trivia questions.