Every Kill A 'Good' Kill: How Police And The Media Cooperate To Disparage The Dead

from the 'past-performance-ALWAYS-indicative-of-this-thing-that-just-now-happened&#39 dept

Cops kill a lot of people. Depending on who’s counting, they’ve already killed between 385 and 470 people this year. This isn’t to say that some of these killings weren’t justified, but when details begin leaking out about the those killed, the amount of force in relation to the threat posed is often questionable.

Because no PD wants to look like the home of trigger-happy thugs, the media spin begins almost before the “suspect” has expired. Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, shot by Boston cops, was instantly memorialized by law enforcement and a compliant press with the following:

“allegedly radicalized by ISIS social media”

“may have been planning to attack police”

“preparing to launch an ISIS-inspired attack”

“wielding a machete”

“under 24-hour surveillance by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force”

The “machete” turned out to be just a knife, albeit a “military-style black knife,” because black knives are inherently more evil and dangerous than those in any other color. #blackknivesmatter

What appeared to be a mishandling of a potentially-dangerous situation is now a fully-justified kill of a terrorist. Everyone is just supposed to take these claims at face value, despite the assertions raising more questions than they actually answer.

If Rahim was so dangerous, why didn’t the constant surveillance result in any charges? If — as the media spent all day claiming — he was on the verge of executing a horrific terror attack, why didn’t law enforcement agents have an arrest warrant or even search warrant? What was their intention in approaching him this way? Were they wearing uniforms, and — supposedly believing he was an ISIS operative eager to kill police — did they do anything to make him feel threatened?

Notably, none of the media outlets regurgitating police assertions bothered to probe the issues raised by these statements.

This, unfortunately, is all too common. Disparaging the dead is the national pastime, in terms of police-press relations.

A suicidal man wielding a knife is shot in his bed by police officers responding to a call to a non-emergency line at a local hospital — in which his girlfriend stated he was threatening to hurt himself. Completely unprompted, this is what police had to say to the victim’s mother:

Denise said [Detective Mike] Smith then told her about “this new trend in law enforcement now—it’s called suicide by cop.” She said Smith explained “suicide by cop” is when suicidal people provoke the police in an effort to end their own lives.

She said Smith wouldn’t tell her family where or how many times their son was shot.

Just like that, the dead man was posthumously awarded the department’s “He Was Asking For It” award. Further details on the shooting were withheld, because a bloodstained bed with bulletholes in it hardly portrays the shooting victim as a “threat.”

Akai Gurley, shot in the stairwell of a New York City apartment complex, was committing no crime when he was shot. Rather, the officer who shot him was patrolling the stairwells with his gun out and needed little more than a startling noise to justify opening fire. What did the media lead with?

Gurley has 24 prior arrests on his record, police said.

As if that mattered. The officer didn’t recognize Gurley and assume he was looking for number 25. The officer couldn’t even see who he was shooting at, because the stairwell was unlit. The unprompted rap sheet delivery by police sources was CYA in the form of presumed guilt.

When a Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed Michael Brown, the press led with what it had been fed: Brown had participated in a “strong arm robbery” (which was actually just shoplifting combined with an altercation with the owner). When an NYPD officer choked Eric Garner to death, the airwaves filled with mentions of his previous arrest record (for minor things like selling untaxed cigarettes) and even extended so far as to implicate the person who recorded the incident, who had “previous arrests” and the coincidental misfortune of a post-recording arrest for possession of a handgun.

Feast your eyes on this aggressive spin attempt:

But the (lack of a) devil is in the details. The sentence under the headline implying the takedown of a dangerous, police-targeting thug shows the “history” wouldn’t even fill the unused space on a detective’s business card.

The man killed by Pasco Police Tuesday evening had a past run-in with officers that resulted in an assault conviction.

A past run-in. Singular. Hardly a “history.”

Can you possibly smear a 12-year-old who was shot to death within seconds of a patrol car arriving on the “scene?” You can certainly try.

Tamir Rice’s father has a history of violence against women.

Relevant how?

People from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence. The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts.

[Police and police supporters] from across the region have been [trying to spin this shooting of a 12-year-old]. The Northeast Ohio Media Group [has obliged them].

We’re already skeptical of FBI claims that someone is “involved” in terrorist activities or has been “radicalized.” The FBI has no one to blame for this perception but itself. The recent shooting that quickly turned an armed male into a terrorist on the prowl, operating at the behest of ISIS, is another in a long line of post-shooting justification attempts. In most cases, the officers involved know little to nothing about the person they’ve just killed. But that changes swiftly when an incident turns deadly. Suddenly, there’s a killing to defend and every public record and every law enforcement database must be scoured to find that “justification.” Somehow, a past conviction becomes current guilt, even if the victim was doing nothing illegal at the time and did little to justify the use of deadly force.

Sometimes — very, very rarely — there are exceptions. A Madison, Wisconsin cop shot an unarmed man during an “altercation.” The police chief refused to play the “smear the victim” game.

The police chief refused to comment on Robinson’s criminal history or run-ins with police.

“I could but I choose not to,” he said at a press conference Saturday.

“I frankly think it is, for our purposes today, wholly inappropriate and I am not going to blemish anyone’s character, particularly someone’s as young as his.”

This was backed up by the mayor of Madison.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who said he met with Robinson’s family the night of the shooting, said officials aren’t going to put the teen on trial.

“That’s not what this is about. What this is about is finding out exactly what happened that night and to determine, then, responsibility,” he told CNN’s “AC360.” “We know that he was not armed, and as far as the police chief and I are concerned … the fact that Tony was involved in any kind of transgression in the past has nothing to do with this present tragedy.”

Unfortunately, the media refused to join the police chief and mayor on the high ground.

As much as Koval and Soglin conducted themselves admirably, the media is so bound to the gutter that it couldn’t bear the idea of not throwing dirt on the body.

“Wisconsin Circuit Court documents indicate Robinson pleaded guilty in December to an armed robbery that occurred last April.”

Because the cops refused to smear Robinson, the media had to do its own dirty work and dig up whatever nastiness “court documents” might offer. And if CNN’s smear isn’t bad enough, try ABC’s:

“Inside, Kenny found Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old who had previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges in 2014.”

They could have described Tony Robinson as “a 19-year-old who was loved by his family, who saved kittens from a tree, who had a lovely smile and joy for life, who appeared to have had an unforeseeable psychotic breakdown,” but no. Instead, they described him as a guy who was guilty of armed robbery charges.

Even if law enforcement officials bite their tongues when faced with the opportunity to clear themselves and disparage victims, media outlets can’t seem to help themselves. Too many media outlets ingratiate themselves with local law enforcement — not only by rebroadcasting questionable assertions, but by digging up any potentially damning fact that law enforcement left untouched.

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Comments on “Every Kill A 'Good' Kill: How Police And The Media Cooperate To Disparage The Dead”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Just like how every person killed by a drone strike is labeled a terrorist to cover up the fact they target and kill civilians. If people are going to be labeled as criminals because the police shoot them for a reason or no reason at all we should probably just start shooting at police that we see acting like criminals.

If we are declared a criminal posthumously why not take down a few dirty cops in the process.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s why I automatically assume the police and press are lying when they say anything negative about the person they just shot.

Although I did once meet a former officer who had quit after almost shooting an unarmed man, and I do believe his story. The problem is, he quit because he was a good cop and couldn’t stand the thought of shooting someone who was unarmed, even though the officer thought the person he was chasing had a gun and was about to shoot him.

So the problem is, people who should be cops quit when they come close to shooting an unarmed person, and those who shouldn’t be cops don’t quit. So you see how police forces quickly become full of people who shouldn’t be cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If it bleeds it leads ....

It’s not about catering to LCD. It’s about putting a story out that the public latches on to so that they get eyeballs for their sponsors that pay them. Good guy triumphs over bad guy is a classic formula. The more heroic the good guy, them more evil the bad guy, and the more sensationalistic the details the better. That’s the playbook. Whether it’s actually all true doesn’t matter. If they get called on the fact that they got something wrong due to not fact checking thoroughly enough, they will issue an empty apology and move on. They still got paid. That’s main problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

And the comment threads on the news websites inevitably fill up with all the racists coming out of the woodwork to say, “see, he was a thug who got what he deserved!” And they argue that since it’s reported in the news, it must be true (primarily because it works with their confirmation bias).

If the news published a completely glowing article about an upstanding person of color who fed the homeless, fostered disabled kittens, served two tours in Iraq, and lost his legs to an IED while saving orphans from a burning building, who also got shot by a cop for no legitimate reason, someone would show up and call him a thug or a gangbanger and assert that he shouldn’t have done whatever he did to get shot. And if you called them out for lacking facts, they’d respond, “good people don’t get shot by the cops,” as a classic no true Scotsman argument.

You are being watched (profile) says:

Yellow journalism

Do you know what people want, Johnny? They want SENSATIONAL NEWS! They want to see a bad guy go down and we provide it! They want news that makes them feel good! So go back to your little cubicle and write up how this man had prior criminal history and was going to continue being a criminal. I don’t want to see any crap about how he was unarmed or had his back turned and was running away. Remember Johnny, Sensational News!

That One Guy (profile) says:

It takes a special kind of scumbag to hear about a kid being shot by a cop and immediately think, ‘How can I make the cop look like the victim, and the kid look like he got what was coming to him?’

I can only hope that the friends and family of said slime have made it clear that they won’t have anything to do with him until he grows a conscience and starts caring less about what will get the biggest response, and more about basic human decency and the truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Libel Time

Libel, for exercising freedom of speech?

Not too long ago the media received a lot of heat for incorrectly calling someone a ‘choir boy’. Everyone used to complain every time the media referred to someone as the epitome of perfection and it later came out this person had a criminal background. Now the media is beginning to go the other way, to mention the background of those involved in a shooting to make sure that they cover everything involving the story without leaving anything out lest techdirt and every blog on the Internet complain that the media isn’t investigating the entire story because it’s too lazy and doesn’t do good investigative reporting.

I’m not saying the media isn’t guilty of spinning things one way or another based on how it presents the information, and that’s something that could be looked at more closely, but just because it’s presenting facts doesn’t make the media automatically bias. The media is there to report the facts and possibly present viewers with different opinions from different people. It is up to the viewer to ultimately decide what’s relevant, what’s not, and to formulate what they believe to be the strongest possible arguments and opinions. Forcing the media to leave out true information just because is a dangerous thing to free speech. You shouldn’t be allowed to decide for me what you think is relevant.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Libel Time

The problem with trying to sue for libel is that the case won’t get anywhere. The media reporters make sure to use weasel words like “accused felon” and “alleged criminal”, both of which are factually true since the person has only accused at that point.
And since people’s criminal history is public record, that’s factual also.

The problem is that the media shouldn’t lead with these kinds of statements… and they have no reason to stop since it gets views and it’s all legal.

Nilt (profile) says:

The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts.

That sort of thing pisses me off. I have a violent past, for crying out loud! Of course, the relevant bit is mine was done in service to this country, but the facts are the same! Does this mean my kid’s somehow “bad”? Heck no. I know I’m biased, but even his girlfriends’ parents have all liked him and commented on how gentle a guy he is. Yet a “journalist” might uncover my previous military history and the fact that his mother (my ex) owns guns and use that against him? Hell no, I say. Anyone tried that and I’d be suing their asses for libel so fast their heads would spin.

Mike-2 Alpha (profile) says:

What gets me about the Akai Gurley case is this: even if we accept the idea that his criminal record makes him getting shot okay – big if – there’s still a problem. That means the narrative of the news piece is “don’t worry about this latest screw-up. By pure chance, the officer managed to shoot someone who didn’t matter.”

In other words, even if you’re okay with Gurley being dead, shouldn’t you be concerned that cops in your town are shooting at random noises in the dark?

NuJoisey says:

Re: Re:

AC, how sweet! Where did you park your unicorn? Friends and family will give you the company line, “He was such a nice boy”. Paid his fine? For speeding, OK. Rape, Kicking a victim`s head in, armed robbery, unloading a 9mm into a family house during a drive-by? That history is what the guy is and what he will be doing again. Past actions speak much clearer than garbage from F & F.

How is the meter on your unicorn?

MadamMem says:

Police shooting count

I came across this sight a few months ago.

For every person shot by the police there is a news article link for you to verify. The site started in 2013.

“At least 510 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2015.
At least 1,104 were killed in 2014.
At least 2,384 have been killed since May 1, 2013.”

Richard (profile) says:


The police claim to have some kind of “instinct” for detecting wrongdoing/wrongdoes.

Well I have an instinct too. When I hear about police shooting someone my instinct often tells me that they have killed an innocent man for no good reason. As a Brit. I remember when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot in London – when the police line was still that they had thwarted an attack by killing a terrorist my instinct told me that it was a mistake and they had killed a random person by mistake.

Justme says:

HEADLINE: Prick-tease known for wearing skimpy clothing and sleeping around is raped.

I think most journalist would see the problem with that headline! But in a police involved shooting they do exactly that as a matter of routine and thereby create a public perception that it was certainly the dead man’s fault.

Past actions may be relevant but they tell you absolutely nothing about the facts of the current situation!

Jim says:

Police murdering unarmed Americans.

Absolutely excellent article.

Earlier this year, Dothan, Alabama police murdered an unarmed man that was turning in a kitten into the animal shelter.

Immediately, the police and “news” organizations went on a propaganda blitz. My only surprise is that they blame the victim for sinking the Titanic.

I’ve had enough of these goddamn criminals country-wide that are murdering our citizens. It’s time to flex some muscle, political or otherwise, and turn this around. Now! Right now!

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