Statement: Our expectations for staff conduct, on and off the clock

Two weeks ago, a Street Sense Media staff member confronted the operator of a car parked in a bike lane next to a “no parking” sign and blocking a curb cut on M Street NE.

Deputy Editor Gordon Chaffin yelled “Hello, please move” and knocked on the trunk of the car as he rolled to a stop behind it. When the driver exited the vehicle and asked why Chaffin touched his car, an increasingly hostile back and forth ensued until the driver angrily left.

The safety of everyone on our streets is important. But regardless of the substance of the conversation, this is not how our journalists — nor anyone on our team — should engage with other members of our community. 

Further, many SSM vendors, case management clients, and community sources that we work with have experienced being questioned in public spaces by non-authorities. This is not in line with our expectations for staff conduct.

When Chaffin subsequently chose to amplify the situation by posting a video of it on Twitter, he wrote, “I let most bike lane blocking slide because road design is the only thing that fixes it, but if you block the curb ramp that disabled people use, I will usually stop to hassle you.” And in a later comment he wrote, “Most of the time, the ‘nice way’ means that they’ll say ‘I’ll be here for a minute’ or stare at me wordless. This is a bully. I was intentionally confrontational.”

Chaffin was wrong and we don’t tolerate this kind of behavior. We expect more of our staff. We are going to get better.

Our organization exists to meet people where they are at, empower people to make positive change in their lives, build community among our vendors, customers, and readers, and provide rigorous and sustained reporting on the systemic factors that keep more than 8,000 residents of the D.C metropolitan area living in a state of emergency.

To do that, we are constantly connecting with new people across the District and surrounding areas. To be successful and minimize harm, we rely on building trust and leading with listening, like all media outlets, social service providers, and advocacy organizations should. That is not what happened here nor in any of the subsequent online interactions.

We expect staff members to not be intentionally antagonistic.

That said, one of the core philosophies our programs are designed around is the importance of second chances. Through multiple internal discussions, Chaffin has acknowledged lapses in good judgment, demonstrated commitment to engaging all community members with respect, and promised not to engage in such conflict and to approach all situations and community dialogue more thoughtfully.

We hope this incident has not caused you to question our credibility or your support for all of the many things we have achieved together. But if it has, we ask that you give us a second chance.

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