Fact-checking poor reporting

Life

Apparently, the woman I captured on video the other night (from the George Floyd murder protest), throwing what I thought was a glass bottle at a stationary police van, actually threw a Molotov cocktail. (If you watch the video you can see that the bottle as it flies through the air is faintly glowing.) At the time, I had no idea that’s what happened, even though I was standing very close nearby! (Although you can see from the reaction of those even closer than me, that many people did see what the object was.)

As you can see in the video — which I shot at approximately 10:40 pm on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue — the bottle shatters harmlessly on the side of the van. Immediately afterward, the van then reverses on the street and four officers jump out and pursue the woman. They eventually corral her on the steps of the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Subsequent reports have listed her name as Samantha Shader, of Catskill, New York. 

Shader was initially charged with four counts of attempted murder of a police officer, attempted arson, assault on an officer, criminal possession of a weapon, and reckless endangerment.

From my perspective, it appears the case against her has been exaggerated by the police. And much of the news reporting on the incident has been shoddy — because much of the information in the reports came from police rather than reporters or eyewitnesses. For instance, multiple outlets initially blamed Shader for a totally separate incident of an unoccupied police van being set on fire in Fort Green, a different neighborhood in Brooklyn. (I live in Prospect Heights.) The oh-so-reliable Washington Times, for instance, writes, “The officers were able to quickly exit the vehicle before it became engulfed in flames.”

From my video, you can clearly see the bottle did not break any of the van’s windows, and the van certainly never caught on fire. (My wife Sari also filmed the incident, from our apartment window, and you can also see from her video that the van is unharmed.)

Other reports on the story I found last night on the web made similar claims, and errors. For instance, The Mount Pleasant Daily Voice wrote that “the four officers inside the van were able to escape as the fire broke out.”

It looks like much the misinformation can be attributed to an NYPD spokesman, Det. Brian Magoolaghan, who told Hudson Valley 360 that “the bottle shattered a window but did not explode on impact, Magoolaghan said. The four officers, who were not injured, were able to get out of the van before the firebomb exploded and van burst into flames, Magoolaghan said.”

In another example of poor reporting, the New York Daily News wrote that “An upstate woman admitted using a Molotov cocktail to set ablaze an NYPD vehicle with four officers inside. . . . At about 1:12 a.m. Saturday, Shader approached a police vehicle near the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Ave. and lit up a bottle containing ‘an incendiary chemical.”

So the Daily News apparently got their facts from the police affidavit, which has the time wrong by almost two-and-a-half hours. More importantly, they state that the vehicle was “set ablaze,” which it definitely was not.

To its credit, the Daily News reports that “Two other protesters are suspected of setting fire to a second police vehicle at about 12:57 a.m. Saturday near the 88th Precinct in Clinton Hill.” (Clinton Hill is adjacent to Fort Green, so sometimes the two neighborhoods are confused for each other.)

The New York Post initially wrote that Shader had set the van set ablaze and the four cops had barely escaped with their lives — but they have now changed the story to get closer to the facts (though with no record of their correction).

The N.Y. Post and Gothamist both write that the NYPD announced they were charging Shader with four counts of attempted murder, but apparently now the federal government is taking over the case, charging her with the much less serious crime of “Causing Damage by Fire and Explosives to a Police Vehicle.” I’m not sure if both cases will still proceed,  (The Gothamistpiece also gets the time wrong, saying it was at 1:12 AM — I’m assuming they got that from the police affidavit.)

The New York Times reported that “A Molotov cocktail was thrown at an occupied police van at around 1 a.m., Mr. Shea said. . . . While the firebomb Ms. Shader threw shattered a rear window of the van, the officers inside managed to jump out.” The time is wrong, and I still contend that the van’s window was not broken.

I’m not in any way trying to excuse what Shader did, but it appears — big surprise — that the case against her has been exaggerated by the police, and has been amplified by some weak reporting.

FLASHed & Girl Through Glass at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Plug, Publicity

bkbf-logoSari and I will be ALL OVER the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday (Sept. 18), with two panels and a workshop. In addition, we will be promoting and signing FLASHed at our publisher’s booth. Here’s how it will go down:

At noon, Sari will be on the panel, “Remember All That? A Look Back at New York City,” along with Tim Murphy (Christodora) and Pia Padukone (The Faces of Strangers); moderated by Rob Spillman of Tin House. “New York City is host to grueling ballet careers, riots in Tompkins Square, a political campaign interrupted by a cross-cultural dalliance, and rare encounters of unmitigated beauty.” Brooklyn Historical Society Library, 128 Pierrepont Street. [Full details here.]

Flashed-cover400pxAt 3pm, Sari and I will run a multimedia flash fiction workshop, “Comics > Prose.” Flex your storytelling muscles as you write your own piece of flash fiction inspired by an original comic. One story created in the workshop will be published on the official FLASHed website! St. Francis College Workshop Room 4202, 180 Remsen St. [Full details here.]

At 5pm, I’ll be moderating the panel “The Art of War” with comics journalist Sarah Glidden (Rolling Blackouts), ex-Marine Maximilian Uriarte (The White Donkey), and historical graphic novelist Ethan Young (Nanjing). “Compelling comics can be drawn from conflict zones.” Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street. [Full details here.]

The rest of the day we should be at the Pressgang booth, with copies of FLASHed on hands (and hopefully with some FLASHed contributors as well!). Pressgang’s booth is #529, located near the corner of Joralemon and Adams, right in the heart of the festival.

BKBF is always a great event; we hope to see you there this Sunday!

Brooklyn Book Festival
Borough Hall and environs
Sunday, September 18 (10am-6pm, rain or shine)

1 Year Later: Thinking about Seth Kushner

Plug, Tribute

seth_kushnerSeth Kushner—photographer, comic book writer, pop culture maven, husband, father—passed away one year ago today. This is what I wrote about him at the time:

I wish I had something poetic or original to say about Seth, but what impresses me the most is just how many people whose lives he touched—and how consistent their feelings are: that he was a super-talented photographer, that he was a gracious human being with an abiding interest in other people, and that he truly loved his wife and son.

Seth seemed to epitomize the best things about the comics “community”: He was a fan, he was a creator, and he had an unflagging interest in reaching out and encouraging others the way he had been encouraged along the way.

What he did in this last year, with making his battle against leukemia public and human and inspiring and funny and heart-breaking all at once, is an amazing gift to all those who suffer through these diseases alone.

The wonderful thing about art is that—unlike the artist—it lives forever. Seth’s posthumously published semi-auto-bio graphic novel Schmuck, illustrated by a boatload of talented cartoonists (and myself), came out late last year; and his character The Brooklynite is being brought to life by Shamus Beyale, all part of the Dean Haspiel-led “New Brooklyn” series on WebToons (also starring The Red Hook, and, soon, The Purple Heart).

Seth Kushner, 1973–2015. Rest in peace.

This Saturday: Grand Comics Fest, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Publicity

GCF-logoThis Saturday, I’ll be in the heart of Williamsburg at the 3rd annual edition of Pat Dorian’s Grand Comics Fest. The original plan was for myself and Hang Dai Editions co-founder Seth Kushner to both be at the festival, but as you probably know, Seth tragically passed away less than two weeks ago.

Seth’s presence at Grand Comics Fest (and going forward) will be sorely missed, but his work will be there nonetheless, including his newest comic, Secret Sauce. I’ll try to have Seth’s other comics on hand as well, including Force Field Fotocomix and Schmuck Comix. And there may be some sort of raffle/giveaway to help raise money for Seth’s outstanding medical bills.

Vagabonds #4As for my own work, I will have copies of The Vagabonds, issues 1-4 (issues 3 & 4 being published through Hang Dai), as well as my books A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, A Few Perfect Hours, and The Influencing Machine. In other words: pretty much everything!

Other cartoonists scheduled to be at the curated show—which is open and free to the public—include such luminaries as Derf, R. Sikoyrak, Kriota Willberg, Jess Ruliffson, James Romberger, Marguerite van Cook, Box Brown, Paper Rocket Comics, and Ink Brick. Come on by!

Details:

Grand Comics Fest
Saturday, June 6, 12 noon – 8pm
Bird River Studios
343 Grand Street (corner of Marcy & Havemeyer)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

For more information, email grandcomicsfestival@gmail.com.

"SuperStorm Stories" on Medium

Work

RHF01-pn2In commemoration of Hurricane Sandy’s one-year anniversary, Medium is debuting “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family” (part one), a piece I reported and drew about a Brooklyn family’s experiences during the storm and its aftermath. This segment specifically deals with the family’s love of books (and music), and the horror of seeing some of their most treasured memories destroyed by the “gasoline- and poop-filled water from the Hudson River.” Jim, the dad, speaks memorably about “black-bagging a favorite book” and its resemblance to “a mangled body.”

For some reason in recent years it has been my lot to be connected to hurricanes; first with Katrina and A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, and now with my home city of New York and Sandy. (I wrote in this space about the frustrations of being “stranded” away from New York during the actual storm last year, while on my journalism fellowship in Ann Arbor.) As an artist, I can’t stop thinking about floods and rising waters—nature’s inexorable, nightmarish consumption of all things fragile and man-made. I think I was first awakened to this fixation by the horrific events of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. And my contributions to the 2010 ABC Primetime special, Earth 2100, about catastrophic climate change, only contributed to that obsession. Well, if Al Gore is correct, I’ll have plenty of fodder for this in the coming decades. ;->

So check out “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family,” and look for part two (which promises a happier conclusion) in the coming days…

A.D.: NYC

A.D., Travel

It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and I’m just now coming to understand how devastating the impact was. A good part of the reason for this disconnect is that I am currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. (One of the conditions of the fellowship is that you must live in Ann Arbor for the academic year, and you are forbidden from publishing anything professionally during the duration of the program.)

Weirdly enough, the first person I heard from after Sandy passed was Leo, one of the heroes of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Obviously, a guy who lost everything in Katrina would be supremely attuned to the effects of the “superstorm” which hit the East Coast. He wasn’t sure whether I was back home in Brooklyn or still away, and was relieved to hear me and my stuff were okay. (Our apartment is on the fifth floor of a building in Prospect Heights—e.g., not near sea level.) In fact, thankfully, my family and pretty much everyone I know well in New York was relatively unaffected by the storm.

But as the days have gone by, we’ve been hearing more about others in our wider circle who weren’t so lucky. There’s the staff member at Wallace House whose family lives in Breezy Point (they lost everything), and one of my fellow Fellows, Amy Haimerl, who hails from Red Hook. Her husband Karl drove back to NYC the day after the storm to help with clean-up; Amy is coordinating efforts from afar via social media.

I think, understandably, my main focus has been on what’s going on in my hometown. This morning I was streaming WNYC radio, which was performing their civic duty of spreading the word about the storm, and cleanup and relief efforts. They were crowdsourcing listeners: people calling in from Staten Island, the Rockaways, and other devastated areas. As with Katrina, certain mantras were repeated over and over: the police didn’t know where to go or to contact to donate stuff or labor; FEMA was hardly in evidence; rumors swirled. (Although the New York City Department of Sanitation was getting high marks for their round-the-clock cleanup efforts. Let’s hear it for New York’s Strongest!) Again like with Katrina and New Orleans, there are so many communication gaps: people in one part of the city have no idea what’s going on in another.

And there are still so many regions without power; even now, a week later! The areas most badly hit—no surprise—host large numbers of public housing high-rises, and residents there, especially in the upper floors, are trapped with no elevator access, no lights, no heat, and often no way to get food & water. And the cold is setting in. (Word is that the Occupy Wall Street folks have been down in affected areas like the Rockaways doing great work.)

Sari pointed out this morning that, as New Yorkers we’re used to manmade challenges—political red tape and corruption, socio-economic barriers, over-crowding, etc. We’re not used to dealing with natural disasters like this. It’s almost like we grew up believing things like this only happened to other people, far away—sort of like that famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue.”

So now we’re facing the reality of up to 40,000 people permanently displaced, maybe up to 40 public schools that won’t be able to re-open until next summer. Again, these are the images from post-Katrina New Orleans.

I had been thinking a lot about A.D. this week, regardless of the storm. Last Thursday I presented my work to my Knight-Wallace compatriots; on Friday I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, site of a series of devastating tornadoes in April 2011, to present A.D. to freshmen students there.

Back in 2005, when I volunteered with the Red Cross, and in 2007–2008, when I was working on A.D., I was an outsider come to document the post-Katrina Gulf Coast experience. Now, with Sandy, now I am an “expatriate” New Yorker forcibly removed from the event. I desperately wish I was in New York right now: to help, to bear witness, to be where I belong.

May 8 @ WORD: Gladstone & Neufeld Explain Everything

Influencing Machine, Plug

IF-paperback-cover-smNext Tuesday, May 8, Brooke Gladstone and I will be debuting The Influencing Machine‘s paperback edition at Greenpoint’s independent bookstore WORD. Titled “Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld Explain Everything,” Brooke and I will “dish” on the state of modern media, the process of creating the book, and more with a multimedia presentation, Q&A, and signing. Plus, WORD will be raffling a free, signed copy of the book!

Here’s the Facebook event, where you are encouraged to RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/402451176440183/

Details:
Tuesday, May 8, 7 p.m.
WORD, 126 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Nearest subway: G train (Greenpoint Ave.)

Join me this Saturday at Fireside Follies' comics/illustration benefit!

Publicity, Work

This coming Saturday, March 17, I’ll be presenting my work as part of Fireside Follies’ Second Annual Comics/Illustration Benefit for Planned Parenthood of New York City.

Curated by Eric Nelson and Mike Lala, the event will feature comics being projected on and read from a large screen. The other artists are:

I’ll be presenting, for the first time in public, my comics journalism piece on Bahrain’s Pearl Revolution (“Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”). And I’ll be the only boy! And probably the only “cripple.”

Admission is FREE and open to the public. Donations (cash or check made out to Planned Parenthood of NYC) will be collected and are highly encouraged. Please join us for a great night of comics, drinking, and supporting an important organization.

Saturday, March 17, 7:30 pm. Brooklyn Fire Proof, 119 Ingraham Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Further details and images below…

Fireside Follies

This weekend: Brooklyn Book Festival

A.D.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is this coming Sunday, September 12, and I’ll be on a panel starting at 2 pm on the International stage featuring Nick Abadzis and Jessica Abel, moderated by Matt Madden. So if you’re not out of town at SPX, try to come. Believe it or not, this is my first BKBF, and I’m really excited to take part!

Here’s the description from the program:

The International Graphic Novel: Drawing from Life: Three acclaimed cartoonists, whose work takes on social and political themes, talk about the on-the-ground research and background work they have all done in preparation for creating their books: Nick Abadzis (Laika), Josh Neufeld (AD: New Orleans After The Deluge) and Jessica Abel (La Perdida). Moderated by Matt Madden (99 Ways To Tell a Story).

There’ll be a group book signing afterward.

And at 4 pm be sure to catch the other comics talk on the program:

Comics and Form: Is the Medium Still the Message?: Do comics change when they are released from their traditional print medium? And how? Creators, publishers and developers will combine to discuss the expanding boundaries of the comics format. Robert Berry (Ulysses Seen), Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer), Jillian Tamaki (Skim). Moderated by Columbia University librarian Karen Green.
Details:
2010 Brooklyn Book Festival
Sunday, September 12, 10 am – 6 pm
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201