Knowing When To Walk Away: Woman Attacks News Crew But Was She The Only One In The Wrong?

June 6, 2013  |  

Sometimes you’ve got to know when to leave well enough alone. But apparently, Rhode Island journalists for ABC 6 didn’t know or didn’t realize it was time to go.

Reporter Abbey Niezgoda and her photographer Marc Jackson were on assignment in Providence, Rhode Island attempting to interview Melissa Lawrence, the mother of a 16 year old girl who was shot at a graduation party.

The crew stood on the sidewalk, right outside of Lawrence’s house and allegedly asked if they could interview her. They claim she said “OK, that’s good.” But everything wasn’t good, actually, as Lawrence ended up throwing a rock at the photographer, threatening them both with a bat, sic-ing her dogs on Niezgoda and cussing them out.

There’s video of the exchange below.

Luckily, Lawrence’s daughter has been released from the hospital and is recovering from the gunshot wound to her lower back.

The video, on the other hand, was uploaded to YouTube yesterday and at this point has received over 150,000 views. And later in the day, ABC 6 reported that Lawrence was arrested and charged with two counts of felony assault with a dangerous weapon. She was released from jail on a $50,000 personal recognizance but could forfeit her bail if she gets in trouble again. When Animal Control was sent to her house, looking for the dogs they were nowhere to be found. If they discover that she’s hiding them, she could face additional charges.

Something about all of this rubs me the wrong way. It all seems so exploitative. These reporters must have known that they were approaching a very delicate situation. We can assume that this woman was troubled worrying about the nature of her daughter’s injuries. It would seem that ethical journalism and good human decency would recognize the signs of a woman who is in no condition to talk to the media.  While you can hear Lawrence say something that sounds like “OK, that’s good,” at the very beginning of the video, it’s really unclear as to whether she’s talking to the reporters, to the other people standing around her, to her dogs or about something else entirely. Even if Lawrence did agree to do the interview, the moment she started lobbing rocks, should have been the moment Niezgoda and Jackson turned around and headed back to the station…without the interview.

The exchange and the way they kept attempting to question Lawrence, a woman who clearly wasn’t going to cooperate, is odd to say the least. Basic principles of human survival dictate that if someone is attempting to attack you with rocks and a baseball bat, it would be in your best interest to leave before you sustain physical injury. But maybe these two just wanted “the story.”

Which brings me to my second point. What, exactly, is the story? Niezgoda and Jackson went there to interview Lawrence about her daughter being shot in the back at a graduation party. And when they realized it wasn’t going to happen, probably shortly after she threw that rock, they stayed. Asking her questions about why she was attacking them. I can’t be sure, but their lingering and ABC 6’s subsequent decision to air this non news story seems like the latest installment of “let’s interview an animated black person and get millions of YouTube hits.” You went to get a story, for whatever reason, you failed; but instead of running the story without the interview, or killing it altogether, you shift the focus from a teenager being shot at what was supposed to be a joyous occasion, to discussing how a woman and her dogs attacked you when you were just “doing your job.”

Should Lawrence have thrown rocks and sent her dogs to bite Niezgoda and her photographer? Of course not. But Niezgoda and Jackson should have known to respect this woman’s feelings and obvious requests for them to leave in what was, and probably still is, a confusing, anger-inducing, hurtful and frightening time in her life.

What do you make of this video? Should Lawrence be sentenced to jail time? Were the reporters, Niezgoda and Jackson, also in the wrong?

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