I’ve become increasingly perturbed as of late over the collusive alliance between mainstream media and the police department particularly as it pertains to the public presentation of police-involved shootings.
As Baltimore City’s homicide rate experiences a steady rise, many more eyes are focused on what to do to confront this problem. Grassroots groups have bound together to challenge violence, candidates and politicians have made pledges for more police, and preachers, by and large, have held their peace refusing to say much of anything at all – about anything at all of social concern.
The interim mayor of Baltimore City is calling for the community to partner with police to challenge the violence in the streets, however, I would like to remind the interim mayor that partnership is a two-way street.
This year has not only seen more than 210 homicides, but we’ve also witnessed a more than 50% increase in police-involved shootings. Some would say that this is logical. The increased number of murders point to why the police are shooting more, but I contend that this doesn’t stand up to the common sense test. The explanation for more police shootings is based on the faulty, unethical, and immoral premise that the police are fighting crime by shooting more people. Furthermore, some of these police-involved shootings give rise to serious questions. Some of the most recent police shootings have involved the shooting of unarmed Black men. Partnership under these circumstances is impossible! The community’s mistrust of police officers is understandable, if not necessary for self-preservation, given some officers’ behavior in the community.
Not only should the police department be held accountable for shooting and sometimes killing unarmed people, but the media must be deemed culpable as well in the presentation of these shootings/killings. In many respects, the media acts as the mouthpiece of the police department and instead of challenging the department’s version of what happened with these shootings, the media helps to provide further justification for it assuring the public that the officer killed a “worthless person” – not someone that we as a community should care about or advocate for.
This article is in no way attempting to suggest that every person engaged by police officers is innocent of illegal activity, it is however, an attempt to examine how the media helps to provide justifiction for questionable shootings/killings by police.Â
Consider the following example of this from The Baltimore Sun Newspaper and WJZ Television News:
This story is about a alleged domestic dispute where a woman flagged down an officer in East Baltimore. The officer confronted the man and ended up shooting him. First let’s see how WJZ frames the shooting victim. I’ll CAPITALIZE and bold the characterizing phrases :
“Thirty-eight-year-old Oliver Brooks is in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
He was shot Monday night after a struggle with three year veteran Officer Bandele Charles.
Authorities say Brooks WAS SHOT AFTER GRABBING the officer’s nightstick.
We BELIEVE HE HAD A WEAPON of some kind…a blunt object.
The scene of this latest shooting, just blocks north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, WAS KNOWN FOR DRUG ACTIVITY, but the DANGER FOR POLICE proves the battle is not over yet.
The 38-year-old man shot by police has A VERY LONG AND VIOLENT CRIMINAL RECORD. He is still at Shock Trauma listed in critical condition.”
In WJZ’s version of the story, they first want you know that Mr. Brooks prompted the officer to shoot him by grabbing the nightstick. Then they want you to know that the area is known for drug activity. This is an attempt to characterize the entire neighborhood leading viewers to believe that all residents who live there engage in unlawful behavior. Third, I find it quite interesting that though the officer is the one who shot the unarmed man, WJZ suggests that the police officers are in “danger” – not the unarmed residents. Finally, WJZ wants you to know that the man who was shot has a long criminal record so it is likely that he fought back and it is justifiable that he got shot. Notice, there is no critical questioning at all about whether or not Mr. Brooks had a weapon. It’s just said that it was “believed” that he had a blunt object, but no clear answer. Basically, what the media is selling these days is that it’s ok to shoot or kill unarmed Black people in Baltimore.
Now let’s examine The Sun’s version of the same incident:
“A department spokesman, Sterling Clifford, said Charles [the officer] confronted the man, WHO RESISTED ATTEMPTS to take him into custody. Clifford said that during the struggle, Charles felt in danger, drew his gun and shot Brooks in the upper body.
Police said BROOKS GRABBED CHARLES’ NIGHTSTICK JUST BEFORE HE WAS SHOT.
Brooks has A LONG HISTORY OF ARRESTS on minor charges, INCLUDING SEVERAL OF RESISTING ARREST; he has two convictions for ASSAULT AND DRUG POSSESSION, according to court records.
In his latest case, he pleaded guilty on July 2 to drug charges and was sentenced to two years in jail, with all but one day suspended, court records show. A District Court judge ordered Brooks to a year of supervised probation.”
We can see the consistency of characterization in the Sun’s version of the story. Like WJZ, they want you to know that Brooks resisted arrested and grabbed the officer’s nightstick. They also stress Brooks’ LONG history of arrest being sure to note that Brooks has several charges for resisting arrest leading you to believe that he did the same thing in this situation. Finally, they want you to know that not only does Brooks have a long history of resisting being arrested, but he also has assault and drug charges. This characterization attempts to justify the police’s version of the story with no input at all from Mr. Brooks about what happened and no questioning of if it is lawful to shoot unarmed people. (Notice that the Sun version does not mention that the Mr. Brooks was “believed” to have a blunt object.)
Hopefully, this examination will sensitize our eyes to what is being presented to us when police shoot and/or kill African Americans in Baltimore – and in fact the nation. We should always ask critical questions and examine the situation understanding that there is another side to every story thatÂ rarely gets told.
In the words of the Kenyan proverb, “Until lions have historians, hunters will always be heroes.”