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.
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.
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.