LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – The Lakeland Ledger found itself in a swirl of controversy this week after it published a cartoon that appears to make fun of police. The cartoon was published Monday.
The cartoonist is Dave Granlund, a national artist whose work appears in newspapers around the country.
It shows a heavyset white police officer asking a pharmacist, “Got anything for an itchy trigger finger?”
After a backlash from readers and members of the community, the Ledger published an editorial Wednesday that essentially apologized for the cartoon and its insensitivity. This comes at a very difficult time in our nation.
Wednesday’s editorial did recognize the papers freedom of speech and peoples’ freedoms to have their own opinions. The publisher refused an on-camera interview and directed News Channel 8 to the editorial.
“We acknowledge that the cartoon was in poor taste, insensitive and a mistake. While the intent was to offer a perspective that we believe many people in America hold on this volatile topic, we could, and should, have made a better choice … With that said, we do not apologize for holding police officers accountable when we think they betray the public trust,” the editorial read in part.
The Ledger editorial also defends the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Lakeland Police Department. The writers point out how risky officers’ and deputies’ jobs are and how they put their lives on the line on a daily basis.
News Channel 8 has posted a photo of the page that held the cartoon in order to show you and spark a conversation. The image is generating controversy in Polk County.
Cartoon follows officer-involved shootings
This cartoon comes in the wake of multiple high-profile police officer-involved shootings. Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile was shot and killed in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Both shootings took place last week within 48 hours of one another.
Shortly after those shootings, five Dallas-area police officers were killed. The officers were on patrol during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest when a gunman opened fire. The cartoon was published before Monday’s ambush.
In an exclusive interview Sheriff Grady Judd said he was upset when he saw the cartoon.
“I was shocked,” Sheriff Judd told News Channel 8. “That’s insensitive and it’s just plain wrong. Very poor choice in very volatile times.”
Judd said the cartoon doesn’t reflect the relationship between the sheriff’s office and the Ledger.
He said he’s used to articles such as a recent Ledger piece that stressed public safety in the community. “There’s a few people in this country that’s always on the edge that hate law enforcement and are looking for support to carry out their evil deeds,” Judd said. “That only encourages it.”
“The Ledger messed up and they fessed up and they fixed it,” the sheriff added.
Judd said he did not think the paper’s editorial was simply caving in to public pressure. It was the upper management who got involved and decided it was a mistake, the sheriff said.
The cartoon has divided residents in Lakeland.
“Absolutely, it’s not the right time,” Letitia Young said. “It’s never funny; it’s never funny to talk about cop shooting.”
Michael Fame talked about the First Amendment.
“They’re going for laugh, and laughter is the best medicine,” said Michael Frame who grew up in Lakeland. “It’s free speech.”