Fatal accident sparks emotional online debate
Reaction to reporting in The Martha's Vineyard Times on the accident that left a young Vineyard woman dead and two others injured has surprised, angered, and hurt many of the people who knew her, as well as many people in the Island's Brazilian community.
The Times reported that the driver of the van involved in the accident, Francellyo Dias, a native of Brazil, would be cited for driving without a valid license. The Times also reported that according to court records, Mr. Dias had appeared in Edgartown District Court three times for motor vehicle violations, including a March 1, 2007 charge of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. That charge was dismissed upon payment of $100 court costs and completion of eight hours of community service. The article said police intend to cite Michael Diaz, owner of the delivery van Mr. Dias was driving, for employing an unlicensed operator.
The news unleashed a torrent of reaction by readers using a Times' online feature that allows comment at the end of an article. There were nearly 100 comments posted in the first 24 hours following publication of the newspaper. By press time yesterday, there were more than 245 messages posted, a figure that does not include the posts deleted for inappropriate content.
Comments posted by readers on www.mvtimes.com ranged from sympathy to thoughtful discussion of the issues, to calls for boycotts, to condemnation of the court system, to inflammatory political remarks about immigration issues.
Pastor Paulo Tenório of Algreja Que Cresce or The Growing Church, a Vineyard Haven church that serves many Brazilians, said many churchgoers were upset about the accident and thought the Brazilian community was being unfairly singled out for blame. "I told the church Sunday, it's time to pray for the family, the girl, the Brazilian people that were hurt," he said.
Pastor Tenório said some were hurt by the comments posted by readers. He said he believes the number of people criticizing his community is a tiny percentage of the Island's population.
"Some people use vulgar words, they stereotype," said Pastor Tenório. "I don't think these people are responsible. They need help."
Pastor Tenório and others criticized The Times for allowing inflammatory comments to be posted, and for allowing them to remain on-line.
Times editor Doug Cabral defended the comment feature. "The Times should reflect as broadly and completely as possible the true nature of our community," he said, "including the parts we admire and those that make us uneasy. We know it is a mistake to imagine that even the most liberal among us are content to see the contrary, and often harshly formulated, views of their neighbors reflected in the newspaper, in print or online. They'd like us to bar such disagreeable expressions. Without question, we Islanders are choosy as to whom and to what views we extend the Vineyard's celebrated warm embrace. A newspaper that wants to understand its community and its varied views must make a place for them all."
Brandy Gibson's mother, Leslie DeOliveira, was among those who posted comments on-line. "To all of you that are turning this into a political hate fest, drop it now, please," wrote Ms. DeOliveira. "I'm asking you to stop the hate. We have enough of it in the rest of the world. The death of my daughter is hard enough on the many that knew her; let now be the time to remember her and share your feelings with others, not blaming, pointing fingers, or boycotting."
Ms. Gibson's aunt, Stephanie Berryman-DePaula, said in a phone interview on Tuesday, that her niece would have been very angry to read the comments.
"A good chunk of her family is from Brazil," said Ms. Berryman-DePaula. "A lot of her good friends are from Brazil. She would have been totally [angry] to argue. Brandy wasn't like that."