LET ME BEGIN with a statement of fact. Editorial cartoons are not meant to be fair and they cannot hurt you. That said, they can, in the words of one of my ink-stained brethren, punctuate the conversation with satire, mockery and gross exaggeration, ridiculing and lampooning everything from pompous politicking to holier-than-thou hypocrisy. Nobody said it was pretty, but it is oh, so American. Cartoons are supposed to provoke thought, encourage speech and usher in change. And change cannot come soon enough. Our country is reeling from a series of deaths of young black men at the hands of the police. We have all seen the headlines, read the stories and watched countless families grieve, night after night, in front of the television cameras.
It is because of these events that I created a very simple cartoon with a very simple and timeless message. The cartoon (at right) shows Santa in his chair, listening to a group of black children. One of the children is making his Christmas wish to Santa to "keep us safe from the police." This sentiment, I might point out, is also on the minds of many black Americans. Throughout history, cartoonists have employed the use of well-known symbols to drive home their messages with as much impact as possible. I chose Santa because he is known as the grandest granter of children's wishes and all things good. There could be no more wondrous gift than the gift of being safe.
The reality is that black parents in this country have to hold very different conversations with their children than white parents when it comes to the issue of law enforcement. As a white male, this topic was something my parents never felt the need to talk to me about. But in many black Americans' homes, parents teach their children from a young age to tread carefully when they encounter the police.
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 in Philadelphia, seems to lack any seasonal cheer or goodwill toward men . . . or at least to cartoonists and editors. After my Santa cartoon ran in the Bucks County Courier Times, it was forwarded on to Mr. McNesby - and that is when all chances of my being invited to the FOP Christmas party came to a screeching halt. Mr. McNesby proceeded to draft an angry letter in which he called members of the media "parasites" and informed us that there is a special place in hell for us all. He went on to refer to my Santa cartoon as "disrespectful and highly offensive." However, I do give two lumps of coal for his vulgar critique of my work. What I find highly offensive is the growing number of black Americans who are having deadly run-ins with members of our law enforcement across this country. What I find disrespectful is the lack of concern and compassion that has been demonstrated by many of our citizens for their fellow countrymen - the victims, and those who work to challenge and protest the situation in order to bring about change. In this country, we have the freedom, the right, the privilege and the duty to oppose our government when any person's rights are being trampled. As the German poet Gunter Grass once put it, "The first job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open." And, I might add, to keep his mind open.
To the editors who ran my cartoon, I say thank you. To the reporters and newspaper people everywhere, I say keep informing us, challenging us and letting the pages of the paper be a place where differing opinions can always find a voice. The apology requested by the FOP from me regarding my cartoon will not be forthcoming. The bully who yells the loudest does not always get his way.
So, to the hotheaded and venomous rant by Mr. McNesby against my cartoon, myself and the media as a whole, I say that his misguided anger and inelegant choice of words only reinforce what many have come to believe - that too many law-enforcement officers view the rest of us with utter disdain. I hope Santa brings Mr. McNesby a stocking full of joy, understanding and humility. What is that oath all police officers take? Oh yes - to protect and serve.
A nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist,
If there's a major flaw in this city's government it lies directly in the lap of City Council. It has a leader who would be king and all the other members have their own agenda. They disagree with the mayor only because they can and in my mind there are too many members of council to ever get anything of value to the people accomplished. They want what they want and the public be damned. If they want an amendment to the City Charter let's include a reduction in number of council seats and replace the appointment of a Council leader with an election process. Darrell Clarke was elected a Council member with a huge 16,000 votes, hardly a majority, not as king. I for one am tired of hearing what he wants. How about if he asks the people what they want and bows to their wishes?