City of the Damned: Facts are Facts

Jay Atkinson

Jay Atkinson

In our March issue, Jay Atkinson writes in “City of the Damned” that Lawrence is “the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts” and details the reasons why: widespread crime, failing schools, crippled government, a controversial mayor, and more. There’s been robust debate on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments section of Atkinson’s piece. In response, Lawrence City Councilor Daniel Rivera wrote a blog post about the story, and here, Atkinson responds to Rivera:

I want to thank Mr. Rivera for writing into the magazine in response to my article. I will add a few thoughts. The first is I didn’t write the headline, just the story. As a working journalist, I do the reporting and follow the facts where they lead me. To grasp the depth of the problems in Lawrence, I invite readers to peruse the Mass. Department of Education district review, completed last fall. This report details the reasons the schools have been de-certified and taken over by the state. It’s horrifying. And the crime statistics measuring the rise in violent crime in the city since police and fire were forced to drastically reduce their ranks — anyone can request those through the city attorney’s office in city hall. Again: the facts are there, and they are not encouraging.

The aim of journalism is not to “hurt” or “help” Lawrence, or any other community. It’s to report the facts. No one is challenging the facts reported in the story because they were taken from government sources: the U. S. Census Bureau, the FBI website, the Dept. of Education, etc. And the primary sources for the story, including the chief of police John Romero, Lawrence Teacher’s Union president Frank McLaughlin, and Father Paul O’Brien of Saint Patrick’s church, are respected for their dedication to Lawrence. They are known for telling the truth about the city.

Yes, the former superintendent of schools, Wilfredo Laboy, did a great disservice to Lawrence by mismanaging the schools and his budget. But who hired Mr. Laboy? I believe it was representatives of city government.

On a personal note, let me add that I grew up playing ball at the Howard Park and Hayden Schofield Playstead in north Lawrence. I learned to skate at the old Frost Arena, now known as the Valley Forum. I attend Mass at Saint Patrick’s church and frequent Lawrence’s restaurants; I go to the movies at Showcase Cinema, take my son and nephews to the Dog Haus and Grill, and ride my mountain bike in the city year round. There are many ways to love your home ground, and one of them is by reporting the facts.