Editorial: The disturbing and unreasonable silence around Roselle shooting
Police and some village officials in Roselle might think that no one needs to know or care what happened in the house at Picton and Roselle roads where a man was shot to death June 27. They should tell that to the people who left 300 or so comments discussing the episode, many pleading for information, on the Roselle Police Department's Facebook page.
In essence, they have said that to them and to the community at large through a silence that defies both acknowledgment of public concern and the most fundamental tenets of government transparency.
Police often resent the nuisance of public accountability and, understandably, fear the damage that can be done to an investigation by releasing too much information too soon.
But in Roselle, where squads and ambulances were on the scene for several hours beginning at 1:30 a.m., the resentment and fear have been pushed to new -- and unreasonable -- levels. While residents plead for details about a situation that can only be pieced together via rumors and speculation, authorities have firmly refused to comment beyond the details of a June 27 news release posted on Facebook that says police responding to a call arrived at a house "in the area of Picton and Roselle Road" to discover "multiple victims had been shot and one was pronounced deceased at the scene," and beyond a post Wednesday that said little more than that they are investigating.
No indication of the age or gender of the one killed, much less the person's name or hometown. No details on what kind of weapon was used or whether multiple weapons were used. No indication of what may have been going on in the house that could lead to multiple people being shot. No indication whether the deceased was someone who did the shooting or just someone who got in the way. Just a common throwaway phrase that "there is no reason to believe there is a threat to anyone in the community."
We would only learn the dead person's identity -- 29-year-old Jamez Elem from Maywood -- days later after pressing the DuPage County coroner.
Of course, no one -- not we in the press, not any of the commenters on Facebook, not any of the residents of the neighborhood, nor anyone else in Roselle -- wants to disrupt the police investigation of this case. But we all deserve more than a pat on the head and a cursory statement that we need not be concerned.
People in Roselle may justifiably be worried. So may residents throughout the suburbs. For all we know, the circumstances involved in the Roselle case could apply in any town in our region. Considering the speculation abounding on Facebook about the nature of the house where people believe the Roselle case occurred, it is astonishing that village leaders aren't clamoring for their police to be more forthcoming. Yet, when we asked Village President Andy Maglio how just telling how many people were injured would hurt the police investigation, he responded by asking, "What's the matter if it is one or 10,000?"
Well, even allowing for the excesses of exaggeration, that does matter. It does matter -- indeed it is a clear concern for elected and appointed officials responsible for the safety of a community -- how a house is being used, whether large gatherings occur there occasionally or just once, how one or multiple weapons came to be there, how police responded, how many people were arrested, whether any people are or will be arrested, whether any police were injured, whether the police acted responsibly or indeed heroically. These are matters of fundamental interest. Failure to comply with them invites suspicion and the inevitable question, "What are they hiding?"
That question looms especially large in these times. We have no reason to question how well Roselle police responded to this case, but skeptics may well wonder whether the reason they're not telling us anything is that there are things they don't want us to know that have nothing to do with any prosecution of the case.
The principles of transparency in government, including taxpayer-supported police agencies, exist not merely to satisfy the public's curiosity. They exist because in a democracy, people need to know how to assess the work of government officials. They need to know if their communities are safe and what laws and actions have been taken to assure that they remain so.
Police and village officials in Roselle -- or in any town in the suburbs -- have a duty to keep the public as fully informed as possible about the details of their work. To be sure, this gets complicated at times, especially in crime investigations. But arrogant silence on matters of clear public concern is not acceptable in an open society.