Several weeks ago, a police officer in Salt Lake City went to investigate a report of a man with a snow shovel behaving erratically. When the officer found the man, he asked for his name. Within moments, the man attacked to officer with the shovel. The officer shot and killed the man – but only after that officer had received significant injuries, including a broken arm and foot. The officer was wearing a body cam, and the footage of that camera shows unequivocally that the officer in no way threatened the man and that the man attacked the officer with no provocation.
In late January, in Denver, Denver police stopped a stolen car containing five teenagers. Police testimony stated that the officers fired at the car when the driver aimed the car at the officers and struck one, breaking his leg. The driver died from the gunshots. The teenagers insist that the police stopped the car, then were stepping away when the officers shot the driver, who lost control of the car, which then struck the officer. The teen testimony tends to overlook one critical fact. If the car was stopped and not in gear, it couldn’t have moved when the driver was shot, and everyone agrees that it did. Moreover, the driver had been stopped by the Colorado Highway Patrol several weeks before and cited for driving 25 miles per hour over the speed limit and attempting to elude the highway patrol officer.
Then there is the Michael Brown case. No matter what anyone says, Brown had committed two crimes and attacked a policeman.
I’m not saying that law enforcement is always right or sacrosanct. Law enforcement is like any other profession. Most of the police are basically good people, but every large law enforcement agency has its bad apples, just as the medical, legal, software, and any other profession have their bad apples. And the media is right to run stories that call attention to possible wrong-doing, provided that the reports are accurate and as objective as possible.
What angers me is that those people close to the shovel wielder, the Latino teenager, or Michael Brown immediately come up with stories about how good those individuals were… and how awful the police were… and the media immediately broadcasts them. I’m sure each of those individuals did in fact do some good deeds, but so have some of the worse criminals on record. That doesn’t excuse the fact that in these cases, the police officers had reason to fear for their lives – and that their attackers were not the innocents portrayed by the media… and that all the demonstrations and the publicity given them represent misplaced media hype.
Yes… we could stand improved police training in using lethal force and in dealing with underprivileged citizenry angry with years of discrimination, but trumping up media coverage in dubious cases such as these is counterproductive. Maybe I’ve missed it, but where was the national coverage of the black man shot in a Walmart while inspecting a BB gun? Where are the news stories about true minority innocents actually victimized by shoddy or prejudiced law enforcement? I’m sure there are some, and probably a lot, but discovering and covering those takes work. Covering the sensational instances doesn’t. Just load up your instacam or whatever and listen to those with an ax to grind. Quick work and high ratings, just like that.
But the result of quick and easy coverage is, in effect, a sensationalist demonization of law enforcement, rather than a thoughtful examination of both sides. What I’ve been seeing doesn’t represent anything close to impartial news reporting. It’s simply ratings gathering that contributes to societal polarization. It’s also making it harder and harder for many law enforcement agencies to attract top quality recruits.
But then, who really wants objectivity? It’s all too clear that, no matter what people say, most just want news that confirms their beliefs… and too much of the media, at least right now, appears to be too profit-driven to be anywhere close to objective in dealing with hot-button issues. And that means we all lose.