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The Right to Grieve Untelevised

Though Some Media Crews Respected Privacy, Others Did Not


We are the members of the Isla Vista community who held the signs this Monday to stop the overwhelming media coverage of the memorial to Christopher Michaels-Martinez outside of Isla Vista Deli Mart. We did not congregate to send a political message, or to make a larger point about the media as a body, or to get attention for ourselves. We gathered to protect the right of our fellow community members to grieve untelevised at the place where a person who was dear to many of us was unfairly taken away.

Since the events of May 23, news vans and news crews have been constantly filming at the memorial sites, blocking public access and even shoving cameras and microphones into the faces of those who came to honor the memory of those lost. To challenge this, we wanted to make the scenes the camera could capture as uneventful as possible in the hope that the media would leave mourners unharassed.

These memorials stand to allow our community a place to come together and deal with our grief in a safe space. When news crews are preventing people from comfortably expressing their feelings, they are also preventing us from dealing with our loss privately. Many mourners expressed their gratitude to us for blocking the coverage, and when the news crews were gone, larger crowds came to show their respect. Although our actions were initiated by a small number of people, Isla Vistans who did not know the organizers joined together in solidarity with us. We do not represent a niche group; we stand as a community to protect our own.

We are firm believers in the right of the press to cover this event, and we want the media to help the world remember the people who were taken from us. However, there are limits to what is appropriate in the coverage of a story like this. The community has put together events, such as the candlelight vigil and memorial service, that represent publicly our unity, not only within our town, but also with the rest of the world. However, the memorials represent a more private and personal space. We grieve in unity with the world, but we also grieve privately, and would like to be respected. Media coverage of individuals coming to these places to express their pain is nothing short of voyeuristic and intrusive. It hinders our ability to heal after this tragedy.

We agree that the memorials should have coverage; however, this can be done respectfully. Some news sources took footage of the memorial from a distance, in a timely manner, and left when asked to by the owner of I.V. Deli Mart. We did not interfere with them except to block the camera from capturing images of those who were visiting the memorial. However, other media parked their vans in front of the memorial, or recorded it in such a way that mourners were unable to approach without putting themselves in the spotlight. Many of these cameras sat perched directly in front of the memorial and would not leave for hours, even when confronted by law enforcement and asked to move. This is disrespectful to the people of Isla Vista.

We are incredibly thankful for the massive national and international outpour of support that has followed the events of May 23. However, we also hope that going forward, we will be allowed more privacy in the spaces that the community has created for itself. We hope, in the future, other communities in pain will be treated with more sensitivity and respect.

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