All of us have been touched, one way or another, by the events of the past week. Emotions were fueled by the instantaneousness of telecommunications which laid our community bare for the world to see.
I have confidence that the police department conducted itself professionally in both the investigation and the follow-up reports. I respect both the victims' visceral first response to the violation of their very personal space as well as the sincerity of their change of heart and plea to the District Attorney's Office to forego further prosecution of the two young men. Even the stories of the two young men seem to withstand public scrutiny and square with the assessment of the victims.
The Pilot & Today became an easy target to blame, but it might be good to remind ourselves that any small-town newspaper, under any leadership, would have reported one or another version of this story and it still would have taken on a life of its own. Why? Because despite all the finger pointing and charges of inaccuracies and misperceptions, the story reached people at a gut level: the punishment was excessive for the crime.
This story spread like the plague because of the perception of injustice - independent of the competing versions of what actually happened, independent of the debate about whether these two men were, in fact, felons. While the various players in this drama argued the truths and details, our community was reacting to the perceived injustice. Nothing that was brought to light changed people's perception of the punishment.
The 2005 Steamboat Springs Community Survey identified "preservation of small town character" as the most important issue facing Steamboat Springs in the next five years. Certainly all of us have personal connections to the meaning of "small town character." It is these connections that transcended most everything we read in print, for or against. There may have been misperceptions about the facts, but not about the injustice of the outcome. Viscerally, we understood that this injustice, this absence of compassion, is not who we are, nor how we want to be judged by the outside world.
Steamboat Springs and Routt County will soon be embarking on an update of Vision 20/20, which will include an effort to draw from citizens the elements they feel define the heart and soul of our community. If heart and soul was a fuzzy, out-of-focus concept before, certainly the saga of these two young men has now given us a deep understanding of its meaning. Heart and soul defines who we are. Now our quest is how to preserve it and make it an integral part of our policy - and decision-making practices - across all branches of government.