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Happy Mother's Day. Can You Comment For This Story About Your Dead Son?
Six weeks after Pittsfield, Massachusetts police killed Miguel Estrella, the regional paper of record is asking his family to comment on a story about a dismissed, two-year-old gun charge
Since Pittsfield, Massachusetts Police Officer Nicholas Sondrini killed city resident Miguel Estrella two months ago, local outlet The Berkshire Eagle has been seen as leaning toward a police-centric view of the incident.
The paper’s latest tone-deaf move is unlikely to change that perception.
On Mother’s Day, the Eagle reached out to the Estrella family, including and specifically Miguel’s mother Marisol, hoping to get comment on a story about an Estrella arrest and case dismissal from February 2020 in the nearby city of Adams.
The Estrella family, naturally, did not comment on an article about a dismissed gun charge from two years ago on Mother’s Day, when the pain of losing Miguel less than two months ago is especially poignant.
Pittsfield police killed Estrella in late March.
The 22-year-old Estrella was visited by Pittsfield police officers multiple times in the midst of a mental health crisis where he had self-harmed using a knife. Just after 10 p.m., the situation turned lethal. Police say Estrella had a knife in his hand and did not respond when they tased him. One of the responding officers then shot him twice, killing him.
Since the killing, the police department investigated itself and found no evidence of wrongdoing. District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office is conducting a parallel investigation that is expected to take months. In the meantime, reporting on the killing and Estrella has become a flashpoint of controversy in this small city.
The Eagle’s reporter told family spokesperson Dana Rasso that the article is meant to clear up the details behind the 2020 Adams weapons charges being dismissed and implied that the story would be positive.
“I have received complaints from some readers that we have not added the background of the 2020 incident to our current reporting,” the reporter wrote. “We are doing so now, but with the full context of the charges being dropped. And the view by police that the gun found did not belong to Miguel.”
The Eagle gave the family until 9pm Mother’s Day night to reply. While the family declined, Rasso did provide personal comment—but she was told the paper would not be using her remarks.
It’s worth reading Rasso’s statement in full:
The Estrella family has no comment. But what I have observed, in cases where the police kill a person of color, is that the media tend to focus on irrelevant details about that person in an attempt to illustrate the supposed "full story." We saw it with Mike Brown, with Eric Garner, with Breonna Taylor, and with so many other victims of police brutality. The community should recognize that no single action or incident in a person's past is justification for their death at the hands of police. Miguel was a son, a brother, and a friend to all who knew him. This is how we want to remember him.
“Just to be clear, this is my outrage, not the family's outrage,” Rasso told me.
Trust and credibility
Irrespective of the content of the article, the message sent by reporting about the victim of a police killing framed around a dismissed gun charge is clear—”no angel.”
When the Pittsfield Police Department investigated itself and found no evidence it had done anything wrong in Estrella’s killing , the paper dutifully repeated the findings of the investigation—and did not include comment from Estrella’s family and friends.
Standing in contrast to some other outlets—particularly regional NPR affiliate WAMC reporter Josh Landes—the Eagle’s coverage has been seen as taking a department-first approach to covering the Estrella killing. Asking Estrella’s mother for comment for an article about a two-year-old, dismissed gun charge isn’t going to change that perception.
The paper long ago lost any credibility with the city’s communities of color. It doesn’t appear to have much interest in building back that trust.
Correction: A prior version of this story said that the Eagle “declined to get comment from Estrella’s family and friends” in its story about the police department’s investigation of itself. The Eagle did reach out to the family, who were unavailable, while declining to include comment from Estrella’s friends.
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