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Despite controversy, editor upholds story

A class assignment got Shannon McDonald more than an ‘A’ and led to an officer’s assignment to desk duty.

Shannon McDonald stands by the 22nd Police District headquarters. A story she wrote on an officer recently garnered media attention (Julia Wilkinson/TTN).

Shannon McDonald thought a ride-along with a Philadelphia Police officer would make a good story for her capstone journalism class.

Though she received an ‘A’ on the report, she is now embroiled in a controversy that might not have been worth the grade.

“I just wanted to get some crime specifics and information on [the neighborhood] and … to see how the officer interacts with the community,” said McDonald, a senior magazine journalism major and managing editor of The Temple News.

McDonald wrote the article, titled “Black and Blue,” for the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, the capstone course for journalism seniors. The article was published to MURL’s Web site in early February.

In it, she quotes Officer William Thrasher, 24, as using derogatory terms and expletives in describing the district he patrols, which has a large African-American population.

“These people are f—— disgusting,” Thrasher reportedly said per McDonald’s article. “It’s like they’re animals.”

Additionally, McDonald reported that Thrasher allegedly talked with his lieutenant about what they called “TNS,” or “typical n—– s—.”

“I remember being surprised that he was acting so openly when he knew it was being published. I was sitting there with my pen and my pad,” said McDonald, a lifelong Northeast Philadelphian.

The story began surfacing to Philadelphians and media outlets about two weeks ago. Thrasher has since been put on desk duty by Commissioner Charles Ramsey pending an Internal Affairs investigation, said Lt. Frank Vanore of the Philadelphia Police Department.

“If it’s true, [Ramsey is] going to take it very, very seriously,” Vanore said. “He immediately removed Officer Thrasher from street duty. He ensured there was an investigation under way into the comments that were made.”

Thrasher has not spoken publicly about the article since he was put on desk duty more than a week ago.

“I didn’t know he was going to say all these things, so I went in there thinking I was just going to do an article on crime in Strawberry Mansion and how cops go about making the community safer,” McDonald said.

McDonald rode with Thrasher on Jan. 30. She signed a waiver with the 22nd District, which encompasses Strawberry Mansion, for the ride-along. She said Thrasher knew she was doing a report for a class and that the story would be published.

McDonald said she didn’t respond directly to Thrasher’s comments.

“I was there to learn and not to judge,” she said.

Throughout the ordeal, professor Christopher Harper, co-director of MURL, has supported McDonald.
“I feel proud with the way Shannon handled herself – reporting the story well, handling the pressure of being in the media’s eye,” Harper said. “I’m proud of how Temple and its faculty and staff stood behind a journalist.”

Harper offered to remove the article from MURL’s Web site, but McDonald didn’t mind keeping it live.
“It is 100 percent accurate,” she said. “Everything I included in the article came directly from my notes, which came directly from my observation and interactions with the officer. Nothing was ever off the record.”

Harper said McDonald’s reporting is the epitome of MURL.

“I think that what Shannon does is representative of what MURL is all about. We have people go out and cover stories in neighborhoods that are under-covered, except when something bad happens,” he said. “We have people out there in the streets of all kinds of neighborhoods, and we come up with good stories.”

As of Monday, Thrasher remains on desk duty in the 22nd District. The Internal Affairs investigation continues.

“If it’s discovered the comments were made, [Ramsey is] going to take the appropriate action,” Vanore said. “That’s up to him.”

The controversy surrounding McDonald’s article is more of a frustration than anything else, she said. Though some have pegged her as a naïve student journalist, McDonald continues to stand by her reporting while focusing on other things in her future.

“I’m graduating in 40 days,” she said. “Here I am, this person who is still very connected to what I’m supposed to know about journalism and trying to start a career. So you’d think I’d be a little more on my game than people are giving me credit for.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: As stated in the article, McDonald is the managing editor of The Temple News. Other than the interview, she played no role in the writing or editing of this story. TTN is committed to accuracy and objectivity in its reporting.

Chris Stover can be reached at stover@temple.edu.

6 comments on “Despite controversy, editor upholds story

  1. Scott on said:

    And of course people would call he naive, as if she were to look the other way just because it were a police officer who said it. But what of someone who is to witness racism first hand, such as this, and they were to ignore it, let it go? That is not how to reduce racism in this city, that is not how modern, intellectual adults handle such atrocities as this.
    He shouldn’t have been put on desk duty, he should have been fired, redflagged so everyone knows is name, and so he could never get a job with police or any government job whatsoever. You cannot have racists policing this city!!!
    A major turnaround is necessary for the police if they wish to have any respect from the people of this city.

  2. I’m glad the racial profiling attitude held by Philadelphia police officers has come out in the open, and that it was a Temple student to shine light upon it.

  3. kevin on said:

    It seems a little funny to me that Shannon’s article was written around the same time Mumia’s case was being heard before the Supreme Court. Could it be a coincident? Maybe…Maybe not….but I don’t trust anyone and I believe that there are two sides to every story.

    Maybe Shannon was set up and isn’t even aware of it, after all she is only a student. Recently I read that one of the teachers/editors (Linn Washington) at MURL is a Mumia Supporter. I also read on a blog where a Temple student posted the following…..”(the professor) had written on the class syllabus that a pro-mumia journalist would be speaking to our class, but–mysteriously–this class was cancelled and made a field reporting day”.

    We all know that professors’ bias is a problem that exists today in our colleges and universities. It seems to me that the education the journalism students at Temple are receiving may be slanted and in order to get a good grade it is just easier to agree with your professor. Many of these professors try to promote their agenda, rather than giving the students freedom to express their own beliefs. Could this be what happened with the article that Shannon McDonald wrote and was then edited by her professor? Just a thought……

  4. Matt on said:

    @Kevin:
    I agree with your point about biases and professors, however when it comes to racism and police officers cops should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Police racism is a very serious allegation considering the still very prevalent incidences of police brutality and mishandling of evidence. This is true even more so in Philadelphia, a city with a deep past of police hatred for minorities and overuse of police force (i.e. late 60s North Philadelphia race riots and bombing of MOVE). Mumia may be a divisive issue, but I think it’s irrelevant and bringing it up only creates sides regarding the above issue.

  5. Raymond Carnation on said:

    Dear Staff,
    My name is Raymond Carnation and I was a Philadelphia Police Officer our case set precedent on police racism in Philadelphia.
    We need ask President Obama to place police racism on the national agenda. We are seeking national attention on this serious ongoing matter.
    I hope you and the members of your church can help get this story out to the public. It is truly sad and needs to be address.
    The City of Philadelphia hired a private law firm Cozen and O’Connor to fight us officers’
    who broke the blue wall of silence on police racism and were forced off the department in 1999.
    It then took us 10 years and we won our case that set precedent in May of 2008.
    The Mayor and his staff are still fighting us in Federal Court at the taxpayer expense.
    I find this very disturbing for a Mayor to act in this manner when the people and children of this city
    could utilize that money for positive projects and not for protecting racist police officers.
    He took a oath to protect all the residents of Philadelphia which I and the other to ex-officers were.
    I fell that means the city should not support racist police officers, and protect the office that come forward on police racism/misconduct.
    I think the public needs to be aware of all the money being spent on this Racism case Myrna Moore vs. The City of Philadelphia.
    Which is being used to support the officers that were found in the wrong by the jury.
    And for us, setting the record straight, coming forward on police racism, and setting precedent on this case we are struggling emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially.
    The Mayor will not help us and make us whole again. He is still spending tax dollars to continue to support the high ranking officers that retaliated against us for coming forward.
    If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still with us how do you think he would feel about Mayor Nutter’s position?
    I honestly believe the Mayor is sabotaging the civil rights movement on racism that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Died for.
    Below are articles on our case so you may have a better understanding on our traumatic experience working for the Philadelphia Police Department.
    I hope to hear from you and your staff in the near future on your thoughts and possibly assist us by writing letters to Oprah, Dateline, 20/ 20 so they are informed
    and will do a national story on the major problem of police racism in Philadelphia that the city will not correct. I feel this is the way the President and our government officials will take proper action on this matter that has been going on for way too many years. Thank you for your time and effort. God Bless.

    Warmest Regards,
    Raymond Carnation
    Philadelphia Pa. 19135

    around4life@aol.com
    Cell# 267-231-8143

    http://www.counterpunch.org/washington05162008.html

    Racism in Police Departments Must Be on the National Agenda

    By Keith Rushing
    I hope that the U.S. Department of Justice in the Barack Obama administration on will he do what no ne have done before: take serious measures to end the rampant racism and abuse of power in police departments across America. OF if course, we can’t expect miracles in the span of…
    URL to article: http://www .justdemocracy blog. org/?p=791

  6. Clyde on said:

    Incredibly interesting story. Temple took down the original article. It lasted what, a couple months? Of course, you can, and should, read it right over here: http://web.archive.org/web/20090330015831/http://www.temple.edu/murl/spring09shannonmcdonaldspotfeature.htm

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