Protest Sep 13 2020

Protesters gather on the first block of West Chestnut Street in Lancaster city Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, to protest the fatal police shooting of Ricardo Muñoz.

THE ISSUE

Ricardo Miguel Muñoz, 27, was fatally shot by a Lancaster city police officer Sunday afternoon outside his parents’ city home. A video released by the Lancaster City Bureau of Police showed Muñoz brandishing a knife at the police officer before the officer fired his weapon several times at Muñoz. Rulennis Muñoz, sister of Ricardo Muñoz, told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin on Monday that her brother was mentally ill and hadn’t been taking his medications. Rulennis Muñoz said she had called a crisis intervention organization and a Lancaster police nonemergency number Sunday afternoon to find out how she could get her brother involuntarily committed. Protests Sunday and early Monday morning devolved into rioting. Police attempted to disperse the crowd by using a chemical agent.

At a news conference Monday, Lancaster city officials urged people to get beyond the narrative of what happened Sunday and consider the bigger issues at play — chief among them the need for more mental health services in Lancaster County.

We will, but not today.

Today, we make a simple and direct plea: Please choose your sources of information wisely. In a crisis like the one our beautiful city now faces, it is essential that we rely on verified facts.

And you won’t get those from the malicious trolls that began swarming on Twitter on Sunday, latching onto the story of a diverse American city in turmoil like seagulls on a discarded sandwich.

Or from the ill-informed posts and comments that were shared on Facebook.

Or from the partisans who seized on this tragic story and its aftermath to score political points in a contest no one wins — least of all the people directly affected.

The consequences of relying on unreliable reports can be serious.

As Delia Sanchez, co-chair of Lancaster city’s Community & Police Working Group, put it at the Monday news conference, the “false narratives” that circulated on social media Sunday brought out a multitude of people, attracting “infiltrators” bent on sowing division and doing harm.

“This,” she said, “is not what we want for our city.”

This is not what any of us should want.

LNP | LancasterOnline news reporters were on the scene of both Sunday’s shooting and the ensuing protests, long into the early hours of Monday, and if you followed their reports on Facebook Live, you might have noticed them saying, over and over again, words to the effect of, “This is what we know. This is what we’ve been able to confirm.”

As rumors swirled on social media, LNP | LancasterOnline news reporters repeatedly made clear what they had not yet been able to learn and what they had not been able to verify. That kind of responsible journalism makes all the difference in a powder keg of a situation.

This is not meant to be a plug for this newspaper. This is a plea for relying on verified facts — a crucial practice always, but even more important when there are forces at work trying to divide us by spreading disinformation.

As Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace noted at the news conference Monday, there is a great deal of pain in our city right now — and it is “raw and it is real.” 

Some of the very people experiencing that pain were protesters who, as city Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El pointed out, worked Sunday night into Monday morning to keep agitators from setting fires and causing other kinds of harm. We appreciate their efforts.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Claudia Esbenshade reported Sunday evening, some protesters were helping direct traffic on North Prince Street, so the gathering crowd outside the Lancaster City Bureau of Police on nearby West Chestnut Street didn’t clog the city streets.

Of the eight people charged with riot-related offenses Monday, four were from outside Lancaster County, according to police.

No excuses can be made for vandalism. Windows of city businesses were smashed, as were windows on the city police building.

As the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office detailed in a statement Monday, “Numerous buildings and vehicles were damaged, fires were set — all without regard for the owners and individuals who could have been physically harmed by the riotous actions.”

District Attorney Heather Adams said her office “fully supports the right to gather and peacefully protest, however, the riotous behavior exhibited last night is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Such lawless conduct only takes away from those working with the community to address issues worthy of discussion.”

We could not agree more.

Lancaster city is a special place — it is, as Mayor Sorace put it Monday, “the heartbeat and jewel” of Lancaster County. It has serious challenges; among them, “the fact that a third (or more like half depending on how you measure it) of our city lives below the poverty line,” as Sorace noted.

But it’s a place where people work together to solve problems.

The Rev. Roland P. Forbes Jr., senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, is a member of the city’s Community & Police Working Group, which brings together citizens and city officials to advocate for marginalized city residents and to build trust between the community and police.

Forbes spent much of Sunday on the city streets, working as a liaison between the protesters and the police, seeking reliable information he could share.

He was joined by Smith-Wade-El and other City Council members, as well as Sanchez; District Judge Jodie Richardson; Milzy Carrasco, the city’s director of neighborhood engagement; and other city staff members.

We are deeply grateful for their steadying presence in what was a very volatile situation.

At the Monday news conference, Forbes said, “The climate of this country has fostered distrust among all of us. That must cease.”

The mayor said, “Peaceful protests must prevail.”

They’re both right. And for peaceful protest to prevail, for the distrust to cease, we will need to rely on the truth. The verifiable, verified truth.

So please check the accuracy of anything you post on social media. Choose reliable sources like LNP | LancasterOnline. Think before you share. And don’t add fuel to fires being unnecessarily, and harmfully, stoked by others who don’t really care about our city.

And remember that there is more at work here than the events of one terrible, heartbreaking Sunday in September. As Smith-Wade-El said, “We cannot reduce generations of trauma, grief, fear and anger to a single incident that we deem ‘justified’ or ‘unjustified.’ ”

That would be the easier path. But not the right one.