In the past, news outlets liked to pride themselves on being an accurate source of information for the public. Outside of AM news radio, the television networks had the luxury of time on their side. They gathered information and thoroughly researched their stories for their 5:00pm or 11:00pm daily broadcasts. Information was typically accurate and retractions were rare.
Then along came the Internet, 24 hour cable news networks, additional network news time slots, computers and finally, smartphones. The demand for instant information was unprecedented. The urgency for getting that information, both in and out, increased exponentially. News agencies scrambled to compete and keep up with technology. Information was still mostly accurate and retractions were still rare (or simply ignored).
Increasingly, over recent years, when there’s a police-involved incident, there are numerous irresponsible news outlets reporting. Both well-known and obscure outlets with ‘breaking news.’ There is some accurate information, but mostly it is ill-gathered ‘facts’, half-truths, presumptions and even some outright fabrications. It is not always the fault of the news agency, but sometimes, it’s the source of their information.
Stories get published or broadcasted, so these news outlets can be the first to report. They aggressively go after the scoop. They strive to “get something out there” before the rest do.
BLACK & WHITE
Within these news stories, they began reporting about the ‘white cop’ and a ‘black man.’ Implied bias. Somewhere along the way, this became acceptable terminology in the news. Oddly enough, even times when the race of the parties involved was seemingly of no importance and had no impact on the story.
Another favorite tactic of the media, activists and even grieving family members, is their use of outdated photos. Pictures of their ‘innocent’ child from school or church, usually several years old, before the tattoos and without the illegal gun collection.
The media (among others) likes to use the term ‘unarmed’ especially when “A white police officer shot an unarmed black man . . . ” Most of the time, the media and the public’s definition of ‘unarmed’ simply means that he didn’t bring his own gun to the gunfight. According to their definition “unarmed” also includes possession of knives, baseball bats, tire irons, rocks and anything else the public thinks we can’t shoot people for.
That’s obviously not the rule, as there have been incidents of unjustified use of deadly force. Officers have been held accountable, lost their jobs, money and freedom.
However, most are ignorant of the fact that there is a gun involved in EVERY police confrontation: the officer’s. We’ve seen it all too often. The officer encounters an ‘unarmed’ individual and the tragic results when the officer is taken by surprise, physically attacked, overpowered and then killed with their own firearm.
Very recently, we suffered the loss of Police Officer Michael Chesna, of the Weymouth, Massachusetts Police Department, who was hit in the head with a large rock, then murdered with his own firearm.
THE MEDIA STIRS THE POT
The media will quote ‘witnesses’ and ‘victims’ of alleged police brutality or racism. They will share cellphone videos and social media posts submitted by the public and broadcast them on national news channels. They’ll share accusations of racial bias from public figures and even from elected officials, which are later proven to be false.
They broadcast actions which are nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts at getting out of an arrest or a speeding summons, often to the detriment of the officer’s safety or career.
The media, in their haste, reports their initial ‘facts’. The protesting and riots have already begun in the streets. Social media platforms explode with activity, with claims of systemic racism. Individual officers are having their integrity questioned, their careers and freedom potentially placed in jeopardy. The involved officer(s) often suffer a loss of income while being placed on administrative leave during the subsequent investigation.
Quite often, as the investigations proceed and the truth emerges, the media’s original ‘facts’ are disproven, their ‘victims’ are discredited and their ‘witnesses’ disappear. When the body and dashboard camera videos are released, they’re left, (as we like to say in policing,) “holding a leaky bag of shit.” However, the accused officer usually has little or no recourse and the damage is done.
Most notably, the “Hands up, don’t shoot” version of events out of Ferguson, Missouri, upon which a nationwide movement was founded, which spread across the country like wildfire, but was eventually proven to be an outright LIE.
Too late. The damage was already done. A city was left in chaos: rioting, looting, arson, assaults, shootings and homicides followed. Police officers, civilians and business owners were placed in imminent danger. People fled the city.
What remains is a national divide based on a lie and an officer’s career and reputation in ruin. He was forced to resign from a job that he loved and relocate his family for their personal safety.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON …
There’s also the still ongoing incident on Staten Island, New York City, where a NYPD officer applied an “illegal chokehold” to an individual who repeatedly proclaimed “I can’t breathe.” Which also became a nationwide slogan for ‘activists’.
This man was known to the local police, with more than 30 prior arrests – and – had committed a crime. Though the ‘court of public opinion’ disagreed with that fact. He was verbally and physically resisting arrest, refusing to comply. He was morbidly obese and nearly three times the size of any officer on scene. Unknown to the officers, he also had numerous pre-existing medical conditions. He subsequently died.
Tragic as that may be, every media outlet in the country echoed the phrase “illegal chokehold.” It became part of the opening line of every news broadcast reporting on the event. A few are event still using the phrase.
More protests in the streets. The marches, the riots and the assaults on police officers and civilians continued.
They ALL ignored a few key facts: A chokehold is NOT illegal. Rather, it is unauthorized by the department. A man who can repeatedly utter “I can’t breathe”, can, in fact, breathe. The fact remains: a morbidly obese, hypertensive, asthmatic, diabetic man, can suffer a pulmonary or cardiac episode under stress.
We’ve all seen the video. In my best objective opinion, he was a very large man and who was resisting arrest. It appears that he was mostly controlled by the neck and head. He was quickly taken to the ground and was released when he complied. But I’m no expert.
More than likely, his numerous medical conditions, coupled with a physical altercation, which was followed almost immediately by another physical altercation with the police, caused his demise. The coroner’s report revealed “no damage to the windpipe or neckbones” and listed additional contributing factors like cardiac arrest, asthma, heart disease and obesity.
Possibly leaving this obese man prone on the ground and the lack of more immediate attention by medical personnel on scene also contributed to his death. They all said he was breathing on his own at the scene. But again I’m no expert.
Either way, his death was NEVER their intent. The grand jury did not indict and the city has already settled the civil lawsuit for millions. The officer’s career and potential freedom still hang in the balance, pending the outcome of the DOJ’s civil rights investigation, the police department’s internal investigation and subsequent departmental trial.
The ‘chokehold’ may be questionable to some, but still isn’t illegal. Never was.
TOLEDO – HOME OF THE BRAVE
Fast forward to July 27th, 2018 in Toledo, Ohio. An on-duty Toledo police officer shot and killed someone. The chaotic scene resulted in the usual video clips and sound bites that one comes to expect these days:
“The police are supposed to be preventing crime but they’re making crime.” [i]
“There was no reason for that. They can’t justify that. It’s wrong.” [ii]
Coupled with a live social media video feed of the crowd gathering at the scene and a man repeatedly stating that the police had shot a “young boy”, “a 16 year old boy” and that “someone said he was kneeling in the street” when the police shot him. [iii]
‘The Blade’, a Toledo based newspaper and multi-platform digital news service, took the bait and ran with the story. They sent teams of reporters and photographers to the scene who then reported the story as told to them by their ‘sources’ on the street.
They shared the social media videos. They, along with their editors, all proceeded to make a long series of monumental errors along the way.
First and foremost, their pedigree on the ‘victim’ actually turned out to be:
- A 25 year old man.
- Was a suspect in multiple armed robberies.
- Was suspected of stealing the vehicle that was involved in the pursuit.
When later confronted, the subject was armed with and produced, a 9mm firearm. He was promptly shot by SWAT officers.
Upon further review by The Blade’s managing editor, it was discovered that the newspaper had apparently made a series of blunders so egregious, that he felt he needed to do something about it.
Then, the unimaginable happened. The newspaper issued an APOLOGY. Not an internal memo. Not additional training for staff members. Not even the typical five-line retraction blurb on page 53, under the ads for carpet cleaning services, but a full, two-page apology and explanation.
In summary, he basically apologized for:
- Their haste in getting the story out.
- Their lack of accuracy and fact-checking.
- Their having included the race of the officers and ‘victim’ in their story.
- Their misleading and inappropriate headline, that was “unfair to the police.”
- Even for the font type that was used.
I salute you, Mr. Blade Managing Editor, for finally realizing that something is very wrong with the way that the media reports on law enforcement in this country and apologizing for it. For having the journalistic integrity and the guts to stand up for what’s right. For recognizing how unfair they’ve all been to our hard-working, dedicated law enforcement officers who protect us every day.
There may be hope for us yet.
Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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