2001-09-22 / Columnists

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms

Hey people. It seems as though every time I try to find a way to pick up the pieces, after the World Trade Center tragedy, I become more confused, disoriented and uncertain about the future. I suspect that a good number of you share this feeling. I know it is far more difficult for those who have lost loved ones, and I can’t even begin to imagine how they are coping with this ordeal, nor would I even try.

When the story hit us at The Wave, we sat in stunned silence. Some of us cried, while others tried to make some sense out of what was happening. As crazy as it may sound, I kept wishing that I could run off into a phone booth somewhere, change my clothes, and leap into the air as someone yelled, " Save us Superman!" Unfortunately, this was no movie. The carnage and chaos were all too real.

Within a couple of hours, I realized that I had a responsibility to help make sure the paper would be on the stands by Friday. I had to focus on completing news stories and writing several public service pieces. I had to sort through things to decide what would go in that week’s edition and what would not, which is no easy task.

I looked on my desk and saw drawings of two great Muslim spiritualists and leaders. A well-respected artist from the community had submitted them two weeks before the attack, along with a brief write-up. I had to make as decision. Was I to remain a man of my word, by telling the artist that the artwork would be in that week’s edition of The Wave, or was I to disregard the work, and the artist, in effort to avoid an enormous backlash from community members enraged over the attacks? I decided it would be in the best interest of the community if we did not feature the paintings at this time, and I made it my business to pick up the phone and explain my position to the artist. I’m glad I did because she was wonderfully supportive and understanding.

Within the next hour or so, my second test was administered. It came in the way of a phone call from a woman who survived the attack. She described her ordeal and thanked God that she made it out alive.

"I am still covered in soot, and I’m in a lot of pain. I just came home from the hospital and I can’t believe what I just experienced. I’m so thankful to be alive." She began to cry, and I did not interrupt.

After several minutes, the woman began to make the point that racism played a role in the attack, and she stressed that if the U.S. had not walked out of the Conference on Racism, which was held in Durban, South Africa, this may not have happened. I may have misinterpreted what she was trying to say, but I was lead to believe that a number of countries did not appreciate the role we played at the conference. I think the woman also felt that our policy of not getting involved in Africa’s tribal warfare, or Israel’ s war with the Palestines, played a significant role in the terrorist attacks. Whatever the case, she made it abundantly clear that racism was at the root of it all.

The woman then made a plea that I address this issue in my column during the week of the attack. Again, I had to make a decision. Do I ignore her plea and allow myself to become regarded as "sellout" to her and the African-American community, or do I invoke the issue of racism at a time when tensions are high and people are solely concerned with locating their loved ones? I decided not to bring racism into the discussions as to why we were attacked. I have not heard from this kind and fortunate woman since.

As a newspaper editor, I have come to realize how important that role really is. Many turn to you for help and sometimes guidance. The words and subject matter you choose to print will determine success or failure with the audience or community, and sometimes you have to walk a fine line. When all is said and done, the only major concern for any editor should be trying to do the right thing for the newspaper and the community.

See you next week.

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