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Columbia Missourian

From Hickman High School to YouTube

By Tom Warhover
October 24, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader:

A 15-year-old shook up our town a week ago.

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That's when a Hickman High School girl posted a video to YouTube, the ubiquitous Web site for videos submitted by anyone and, it seems, everyone.

The video showed a fight at the cafeteria. Two girls flailed at each other. A third (it was only later clarified) tried to break up the fight.

And then Columbia police officer Mark Brotemarkle enters the scene, forcibly separating the kids and handcuffing them on the floor.

The scene was reported on ColumbiaMissourian.com Friday morning, along with a link to the video. When YouTube removed it, the Missourian and other news organizations in town put the video back up on local news sites.

A bunch of questions were asked and answered along the way. I want to share some with you:

Was the fight really news?

One of the most disturbing exchanges in the newsroom came during the 11 a.m. news meeting. One of our reporters said the fight was common in high schools. Several others agreed. (Many of our student reporters are just two or three years removed from high school.)

In other words, it was a case of dog bites man. Commonplace.

For many parents and others, the violence shown by the video was disturbing. It's one thing to hear about a rise in "incidents" at Hickman, and quite another to see it.

The fighting may be normal. It's also wrong. The problem isn't just a school issue. It's a community issue.

The other issue: Whether Officer Brotemarkle went over a line in breaking up the scuffle.

Was the video fair?

On one level, viewers can watch and decide for themselves whether the officer used more force than was necessary. It's out there.

An eyewitness account is just that — the view from a single person. Additional reporting is required to better understand the scene.  Verification, reaction and consequences — all of these things came out through more reporting. The on-the-scene report from the student was the catalyst from which everything else followed.

Why didn't we identify the girl shooting the video?

There is a high standard against anonymity at the Missourian. But the girl feared for recriminations against her, and her mother asked as well. One of the checks in our policy is whether someone could be harmed.

Officer Brotemarkle has returned to Hickman while the Professional Standards Unit investigates. Meanwhile, other teenagers roam the halls of Hickman, cell phones in hand.