“On Saturday June 3, 2017 a reckless act of violence was committed that has left an innocent bystander partially paralyzed. The brazen broad daylight shooting took place less than a block away from the Providence Police Department’s District 1 Substation, in front of 3 security cameras posted on a local public parking garage, in the proximity of a multicultural, family friendly block party taking place nearby, and ultimately injured Mr. Michael Marrow, a local hip hop artist and the operator of the popular Facebook page Hip Hop Is Life, which is dedicated toward promoting local and regional Hip Hop culture and talent. The incident appears to be part of an ongoing series of violent shootings that are connected to longstanding rivalries between men from different parts of the City of Providence. Law Enforcement does not believe that Mr. Marrow was the intended target, or that he is directly connected with any of the ongoing violence. If anyone has any information to assist law enforcement in apprehending the assailants, or wishes to support the Marrows family during this tragic time, please contact…”
That is how the narrative and media reporting of this very unfortunate incident could have played out. The focus could have been on supporting the innocent life that was negatively impacted by this violent situation, and on apprehending the individuals responsible for the act. Unfortunately, what we have seen unfold over the past several weeks from two sources in particular, Reporter Jennifer Bogdan and Attorney Johanna Harris, are blatant attempts to take advantage of a tragic incident by manipulating media coverage, to push a particular narrative that seems to be founded in either political or personal motives.
These are serious allegations to levy, especially when they are directed at a Providence Journal Reporter and a Trial Attorney and former Chair and Commissioner for the City of Providence’s Licensing Board. That is until one examines the quality of their investigative journalism to see if these allegations hold any merit.
First and foremost, there is the concern that neither Reporter Bogdan nor Attorney Harris have ever reached out to any PCEI staffers, including myself, Founder/CEO Raymond Two Hawks Watson, to obtain any official statement or perspective on what took place on the evening of the shooting. In fact, it does not appear that they reached out to any of the event performers or nearby establishments to get their feedback either. Instead, they have repeatedly focused their reporting efforts on copying quotes from a Facebook event page and interviewing Sharon Steele, an individual who was not in attendance at the Leti Garza and Friends event, and is in no position to offer any valid perspective on what transpired on the evening of the incident.
Simultaneously, and more perplexing, is the fact that while managing to successfully utilize Facebook as a primary source for their reporting, Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris have been unable to utilize the same platform as a primary source to contact either PCEI or myself, directly. This is especially concerning due to the fact that in her June 13 article entitled “Stage near shooting during PVDFest had verbal blessing from Providence”, Reporter Bogdan falsely claims to have made unanswered attempts to contact me by phone on June 12, and also made no attempt to follow up or even introduce herself to me while covering the June 15 Ward 3 Undebate; an event which I was a lead organizer of and in attendance at. To paraphrase Attorney Harris’ July 13 blog post entitled “PVDFest: Out Damn Spot”, are we to believe that writing about, but never actually contacting PCEI, any of the event performers or any of the area establishments to get their perspective or feedback, were simple investigative oversights on the part of both Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris?
Secondly, nowhere in their reporting do either Reporter Bogdan or Attorney Harris mention that the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association (MHNA), a non-profit 501 c 3 Community Center, was an official sponsor of the Leti Garza and Friends stage, and had secured the permit for the event to take place. The same MHNA that was an official sponsor of the June 15 Ward 3 Undebate that Reporter Bogdan was in attendance at just a few days after her projo article was published. Both Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris also fail to mention the participation of the Eastern Medicine Singers, an intertribal American Indian Drum group from Providence, which both demonstrates the multicultural nature and substantiates MHNA’s support of the event. Nor do they mention the fact that Leti Garza, a Grammy nominated Latin Jazz artist from Austin, Texas, was performing at the time the incident took place.
Is it because this knowledge might call into question the validity of Reporter Bogdan’s and Attorney Harris’ narrative that Leti Garza and Friends was some rogue event that was a haven and attractant for violence to take place, rather than part of an ongoing sister city relationship that PCEI is cultivating between Providence, Rhode Island and Austin, Texas, initiated by PCEI’s March 18, 2017 #ATXXPVD event that took place in Austin during the 2017 SXSW Festival? Is it because it would undermine Attorney Harris’ erroneous claim, as a former Chair and Commissioner of the City of Providence’s Board of Licenses, that an entertainment license is required for a non-profit community center to sponsor a day time, multicultural, all ages, alcohol free block party that is being hosted and managed by the organization’s immediate past Executive Director and current Board Member? Is it because it would force their readers to consider the 10 years of violence free, community based event management and production experience that I possess, having produced, hosted and supported numerous, ongoing and similar music and culturally based community events in neighborhoods throughout the city of Providence during my tenure with MHNA; which was the impetus for both my innovation fellowship from the Rhode Island Foundation and for the partnership that was developed between the City of Providence’s Department of Arts, Culture & Tourism and PCEI? To paraphrase Harris’ blog once again, are we to actually believe that leaving MHNA out of their reporting was simply another investigative oversight on the part of these professionals?
Third, Attorney Harris and Reporter Bogdan pay no attention to the fact that the shooting took place less than a block away from the District 1 Police Substation, and directly in front of 3 security cameras, clearly demonstrating the recklessness of the individuals involved. Nor do they acknowledge that PCEI Staffers and event participants were the ones who called law enforcement to report the incident. Further, Law Enforcement has clearly and repeatedly stated that the shooting was not connected to the Leti Garza and Friends event.
Instead, in her July 13 blog Attorney Harris posts a diagram of the shooting area that not only falsely places the incident in the Women and Infants parking lot rather than at its actual location across the street in front of the public parking lot, but also and coincidentally fails to show the proximity of the District 1 Substation to the incident, by not including the substation in her diagram at all.
Is it because this information would undermine her narrative that the proper steps were not taken to ensure the safety of the event patrons, both in preparation of the event and in response to the incident? Is it because this information would demonstrate the proactive cooperation of the event managers and patrons in working with law enforcement officials to inform them of what took place? Is it because this information would prove that this incident had little to do with lack of preparation and safety on the part of PCEI, the City of Providence’s Department of Arts, Culture & Tourism or local Law Enforcement, and more to do with the ongoing violence that has been ravaging the Providence community for the past several months? Or demonstrate how reckless the assailants actually were, in that they took neither measures to hide their identities when committing this awful act, nor time to consider that one stray bullet could have easily taken the life of any number of the women and children that were in close proximity, including the loved ones of both the Event performers and PCEI Staffers in attendance. I will ask again, are we to believe that these two professionals simply overlooked these investigative facts in their reporting?
Even notions that the Elorza Administration has been untruthful about the official relationship of the event to the 2017 PVD Fest are troublesome and biased. Harris, quoting from the Facebook event page once again, insinuates but provides no substantiating evidence that any Leti Garza and Friends promotional materials were produced that marketed the stage as an “official” part of PVD Fest. Instead she cites language such as taking place “at” and “during” PVD Fest in an attempt to promote a false connection; but once again, no clear language that supports her narrative. This distinction in marketing and promotion on the part of PCEI is clearly demonstrated by simply reviewing the contrasting language used to market The Global Food Village initiative on Facebook; an event which was promoted as an official event of the 2017 PVD Fest.
Are we to assume that despite being an Attorney and former Chair and Commissioner for City Licensing, that Attorney Harris is simply unaware of these differences? Or that in their investigative efforts both Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris once again simply overlooked or did not find the value in these points?
In the end however, the biggest concern and insult is not the poor investigation that was conducted concerning the actual incident on the part of Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris. It is not the negative remarks that were made about the great Staff members of the PACT, such as Lizzie Arujo, who spent months planning a fantastic tourism event that was unfortunately impacted by such a reckless act of violence. It is not Attorney Harris’ disingenuous attempt to justify an article’s worth of disparaging and speculative remarks by asking that her words not be taken as an attack upon the good work that Ray or Lizzie do; in essence urinating on our heads while trying to sell us that it’s actually rain from the heavens above. No, not at all. In the end, the biggest insult and concern is that this false narrative is being perpetrated on the back of a reckless act of violence that has left the entire family of Mr. Michael Marrow, an upstanding and positive member of the Providence community, tragically impacted.
Neither Bogdan’s nor Harris’ reporting is intended to provide support to law enforcement in identifying the individuals who are responsible for such a reckless act. Neither Bogdan’s nor Harris’ reporting is intended to raise awareness about and support for ongoing efforts to address the violence that has impacted not only the Marrow family, but so many other families in the City of Providence, before, during and after the weekend of the 2017 PVD Fest. Neither Bogdan’s nor Harris’ reporting is intended to educate their readership about the causes of such violence, or present opportunities for concerned community members to get involved to address these issues. Nor, is their reporting intended to raise awareness about and support for Michael Marrow, the father, Providence artist and tragic victim of this incident who at this very moment is in need of the entire community’s support in order to cope with his new life challenges. No, none of the above. Instead Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris have taken the pain and suffering resulting from a senseless act of violence that has impacted an innocent bystander, and are manipulating it to push a false and dangerously irresponsible narrative, based in political and personal motives that I will leave to the reader of this communication to determine for themselves.
However, I will say this. Tragedy should never be blatantly used to gain political points. Violence should not be sensationalized to achieve a political end. Hearsay and lackluster investigation should never be employed when it comes to reporting and journalism. We, as a Providence community, should be more intentional about and concerned with addressing the violence that has gripped our city and, in particular, making sure that we support not only the Marrow Family, but all of the other families that are forced to deal with the consequences of violence on a daily basis. Quite honestly, Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris should be ashamed and embarrassed for stooping so low and engaging in such exploitative behavior, intended only to destabilize our community, promote community division, and undermine the collective and ongoing efforts to promote social cohesion in the City of Providence.
Several other shootings have taken place since the unfortunate June 3rd incident that has impacted the Marrow family so severely. The silence from Reporter Bogdan and Attorney Harris on these other incidents of violence is telling, but not surprising. In fact I have come to expect this sort of biased and manipulative behavior to be exhibited, in some form or fashion, whenever incidents of violence take place in my community. It’s just what some people do. It’s just how some people are. It’s one of the main reasons why PCEI engages in the important work that we do.
There has to be positive alternatives and responses to the negativity and violence that so many of the youth in our community are subjected to on a daily basis. There has to be opportunities for diverse communities to meet and engage with each other publicly, and without fear for their safety. There has to be an authentic, committed and concerted community response to all acts of violence that are impacted upon any and all members of our community. There has to be committed media professionals and outlets that don’t allow tragedies like what has befallen the Marrow Family, Alves Family, Muirhead Family, Burney Family, and the many other Families who have been forced to cope with the repercussions of violence, before, during and after the 2017 PVD Fest, to simply fade into silence. For the sake of our community as a whole, these elements must be there, they should be there, and they will be there… because we, as a community, will work to ensure that they are there.
It is just disappointing and supremely frustrating to have to, once again, acknowledge that when tragedy takes place in our community, no matter how severe, in order to achieve an end, politically, personally or otherwise, certain individuals will do just about anything to push a narrative…
Raymond Two Hawks Watson is an Artivist, Community Activist, Educator, Cultural Practitioner and Convener with 10 years of experience in nonprofit executive administration, community organizing and event planning, supplemented by an extensive background in promoting and supporting cultural equity & development initiatives and programming in the Rhode Island community. Watson is the recipient of the Rhode Island Foundation’s 2016 Innovation Fellowship and Founder/CEO of the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative.