As a tragedy unfolded the past week in Albany, school district officials, police, parents and the media were faced with decisions about how to communicate allegations against middle school teacher James Izumizaki.
Albany Unified School District administrators alerted police and parents. The Albany Police Department arrested the 28-year-old teacher on suspicion of committing a lewd act upon a former student, a minor under 14. Parents discussed the matter with their children. And Albany Patch wrote about the arrest.
As news spread Monday that Izumizaki was dead, a possible suicide victim, some Albany Patch readers questioned whether the media had been too quick to publish the allegations and whether the site’s readers had been appropriate in discussing the case.
Commenter Colleen O’Neill wrote, “Will you now come here & tell the kids why it was your business? Or the Patch's business?” Someone identified as “Resident” wrote, “I am deeply disgusted with the way things have been handled on here.” Reader Brian Parsley wrote, "Albany Patch is a online local newspaper and unfortunately along with garage sales, lost kittens, and other fluff stories they sometimes have to report news stories that effect our community."
Albany Patch published the initial story last week based on information that the school district and police department released. We reported what we knew. An Albany Middle School teacher had been arrested on suspicion of committing a serious crime, and the school district had placed him on administrative leave. It was our responsibility to get the facts and share what we learned.
We have a public criminal justice system because we've seen how closed systems are abused. Our system comes with a price, as sometimes innocent people are arrested and their names publicized. Sometimes, we get bits and pieces of the truth but not the whole story. The alternative is a system that keeps arrests secret, which can lead to even worse consequences.
Whenever we publish stories about important issues in our community, we hope we're providing a valuable service, dispelling rumors, providing context.
On Patch, people who knew James Izumizaki, people who didn’t, people using real names, people posting anonymously all are trying provide context. That discussion is an intrinsic element of every story we do. Patch exists to have a conversation about our communities, not to simply deliver information. Sometimes that conversation feels raw and uncomfortable. It doesn’t replace the conversations with our family and friends or discussions with therapists or any other means humans use to grow from tragedies; it is a different dialogue that is valuable to the community. And it’s valuable to us at Patch, as we read what you say, what you think we got right, what we should do better.
Had this story unfolded through the legal system, we would have kept you informed along the way. Now, we'll keep you informed as best we can if and when new facts emerge.
We don't know and may never know the truth about the allegations against James Izumizaki. What kind of help is offered to suspects like him before they are released from jail? How are they evaluated to determine whether they are a threat to themselves or others? What other meaningful questions should we explore in light of this tragedy?
More information if you’re seeking help:
- Tips from AUSD: How to Explain Difficult Topics to Children
- Interfaith Service of Healing and Comfort (Oct. 4)
- Blog: Albany’s Children Are Hurting—Helping Your Teen Work Through This Life Changing Event
- Crisis Hotlines & Resources for Mental Health Services
- Coping as a Community with Allegations of Sexual Offending
- California Launches Suicide Prevention Website
Ari Soglin, Patch senior regional editor, is an Albany resident.