Protests, Violence, and Misconduct: The Same Stories, the Same Results

By Javin Dana ‘17

Police officers swear to protect those they serve. In the past two years, however, news outlets and social media venues alike have challenged the notions of police sovereignty and justifications for misconduct.

In the process of carving up police misconduct cases and debating with opposing political parties and news groups, many media organizations lost sight of the victims in these misconduct cases. Furthermore, they unconsciously discounted the severity of our very own “Men in Blue” abusing their power.

August 9, 2014 marked the beginning of a series of revelations concerning police misconduct—or rather the flagrant abuse of power on minority groups by officers who were eventually acquitted of their crimes. Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and Ferguson, Missouri, all became terms ingrained in the minds of citizens across the United States, whether they were voracious news consumers, or merely heard about the events second-hand. Within weeks, the once-contested city of Ferguson collapsed into sheer pandemonium, and rioters paraded the streets in a statement of protest against the death of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, at the hands of the local police force.

In response, the National Guard was called in to quell the protests, while news organizations on either side of the political teeter-totter reported on the comparative fault in the situation, instead of imbuing its viewership with The value of debating whether or not the then-unnamed police officer should be indicted outweighed the evident devastation and public suffering in Ferguson. Throughout these riots, popular “live streaming” websites and Twitter feeds offered higher quality, more objective coverage than CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and most similar organizations.

Just days after the incident, on August 11, 2014, an article posted on CNN by senior contributor LZ Granderson came out with the headline, “How many unarmed people have to die?” During this time, public attention was drawn towards the untimely death of well-known actor Robin Williams, leading to general misinformation from mainstream media outlets, and primarily OP-ED pieces riddling the headlines of newspapers and websites. In lieu of focusing on the structural flaws of the Ferguson police department, or issues challenging African-American families in Ferguson, news organizations chose to highlight the fault of the situation, by placing it on either Michael Brown or Darren Wilson.

Similarly, nine days after Michael Brown’s death, Fox News released an article discussing and dissecting Obama’s “re-assessment” of police militarization, instead of providing reports regarding the evident protests, violence, and possible methods for mitigating such issues.

By the end of the events in Ferguson, rather than giving primary media coverage to the residents trapped in the middle of protests and violence, popular news organizations shifted their lenses to the trial against Darren Wilson. In the aftermath of what felt like years of competitive news reporting towards an ever-vacillating audience of disconnected citizens across the U.S., Wilson was eventually acquitted of the charges placed against him.

Yet, unfortunately, YouTube arguments and forums discussing the situation did not rectify the damage, nor help anyone involved.

And sadly, Michael Brown’s case is now merely referenced as “old news.” Similar to other popular stories set adrift in the influx of rapidly-evolving news productions, within months, the death of a young man at the hands of an officer and the seemingly-perpetual riots that followed became distant memories—points of reference for future debate.

Members of the Ferguson community standing in protest at the local police department (Wikimedia Commons).

Members of the Ferguson community standing in protest at the local police department (Wikimedia Commons).

Following the events in Ferguson, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Ezell Ford all became symbols for the movement against police misconduct. Their names spread across the United States, with Eric Garner gaining further notoriety for both the viral video depicting his death at the hands of New York police officers, and his well-renowned quote, “I can’t breathe.”

As the officers involved were not indicted for their actions in the cases above, public opinion and discussions once again shifted to aggressive debates rehashing the same arguments.

And the far more subdued protests and rallies that followed Garner’s death were chronicled, to an extent, by news organizations. However this drew attention away from the actual case, meaning that even the most pedantic of citizens struggled to unravel all of the details pertaining to his death. This same theme carried over through Rice and Ford’s cases, in which coverage scarcely depicted the actual crimes committed by police alike.

In evaluating these cases, my own frustration with public inaction and the miscarriage of justice by our own media outlets, who bear the responsibility of properly guiding and informing the general public, has left me feeling trapped and enervated. In failing to offer objective media coverage of the events that transpired across the nation, instead producing debates and opinionated pieces that encouraged arguments about comparative right and wrong, popular news organizations caused the American people to resign themselves from offering assistance to the damaged cities, and for the sake of restructuring the corrupt police forces involved.

When our public information centers decidedly dismiss or crudely misinform us about these shootings and killings in our communities, it becomes uncomplicated to feel as though the issues are of little importance. It’s even easier to feel unaffected by police misconduct and police corruption, and thus dismiss it.

By packaging extremely biased, facile pieces of news in competition with opposing organizations, our mainstream media outlets shut down many primary opportunities to support suffering communities. They could have just as easily focused news broadcasting on the concept of positive reform, charity, and assisting those harmed in the aftermath of the shootings. Furthermore, the mainstream news redirected public attention away from the tangible issues of stopping police misconduct and corruption, retroactively repairing the damage done both physically and socially to the communities in question, and evaluating the risk factors that have led to these African-American individuals facing perpetual conflict with the police

And now with the case of Walter Scott, who was video taped being gunned down by a police officer who then attempted to plant a stun-gun on him in order to plead self-defense, I feel inclined to ask, like many citizens after the catastrophes of 2014, “when will it stop?”

The answer is simple: it will not. Or, at least, meaningful change seems impossible with the current public misinformation and resignation. The fact stands that prosecuting the police officers involved and arguing about comparative fault will not help prevent future cases of police misconduct.

And as events in such places as Baltimore continue to evolve and progress, I urge those who follow news organizations to stay excessively informed. In order to end the stagnation surrounding possible resolutions to rioting and police misconduct cases, the public, even those not directly affected, need to become further involved, by donating to charity organizations and actively discussing initiatives to repair the issues at hand. They need to understand the situations at hand, rather than resigning themselves from helping. Because, unfortunately, police misconduct is an issue that does affect everyone, or at the very least, should be a concern to everyone. And without taking proper initiatives to reform the standards for police operations, it will remain exceedingly difficult to stop police-oriented violence, and the public unrest and devastation caused in their wake.