Over the past few years, a lot has been happening in our country. We have a new terrorist organization that is influencing our own citizens to commit armed “jihad” right here on American soil and race relations are worse than they’ve been since the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. Then we have Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman, and reality TV star is currently leading in the Republican primary polls for the 2016 GOP presidential candidate. These are just a few of the significant changes in American culture.
The way America's citizens view law enforcement has also changed. There have always been people who feel disdain towards police officers and their profession (queue N.W.A.’s hit song "F*** the Police," originally released in 1988). But today it seems that the public’s distrust of police officers has spread far and wide. Many people wonder why that is.There seems to be a significant number of people who blame law enforcement’s use of heavy-handed tactics combined with cries of “racism” when it comes to everything from traffic stops to arrests to incarceration. So why has this not been brought to the attention of the general public until somewhat recently? Why are there entire protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes being dedicated to this issue so suddenly? Why are good police officers now being accused of crimes just for doing their jobs? There is a relatively simple answer to these questions.
The culprit to blame for the American people’s negative view of police officers is the media.
This analysis will consist of three parts. First, a general analysis of the relationship between the media and law enforcement and how they affect each other is necessary. Secondly, a discussion on how the media has changed the way it reports on crime and justice in recent years and examples of this. Finally, how the changes the media has made in the way they report about law enforcement officers and their activity have changed the way Americans view and treat police officers.
The problem with blaming the media for this is that “media” is a very broad term. The media that this analysis refers to is mostly the mainstream media. It’s the big news stations, CNN, NBC, ABC and Fox News. It’s the newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune , and so on. It’s journalists in general. It is people that the public trusts and that they have a long-standing relationship with. When it comes to reporting on a police officer’s violence or misconduct, the reporters often make the races of the police officer and the “victim” an important part of their story. They bury important facts about the actual cases and they fail to remain objective. If Americans could hear what happened, stating purely the facts of the case while leaving race and opinion out of it, they would be more likely to have a different opinion about the situation, or, at least, be able to form their opinion without the influence of the media. But reporters do not do this. This relates back to Rawls’s Justice Theory. If the reporters were being fair and doing their job the way they are supposed to, they would use Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. If the mainstream media did this, things might be different.
The relationship between law enforcement and the media is an important one because they depend on each other.
“Crime, justice, and the media have to be studied together because they are inseparable, wedded to each other in a forced marriage where they cohabitate in a fascinating, if raucous relationship,” Ray Surette wrote in his novel, "Media, Crime and Criminal Justice."
The media and crime and justice have this type of dependent relationship because crime and justice are a large percentage of what the media is reporting on. This doesn’t always have to do with police officers, but cops play an important role in American society, therefore, they must play an important role in American media and journalism. Because of this, the media can directly affect law enforcement, and they do so by being able to shape the attitudes that people have towards them.
“Scholars have long noted the importance of the media in shaping citizens’ attitudes about crime and justice” Kathleen Donovan reported. Many studies have been done on this, making it hard for anyone to argue against.
Furthermore, reporters have changed the way they talk about police officers.They bring more attention than ever to anything negative done by someone in the law enforcement profession while leaving positive stories out of the line-up. CNN contributor, Eliott McLaughlin is one of these reporters. In his article entitled “ We’re not seeing more police shootings, just more news coverage ,” he tries to give police officers a bad name. He says that police have been killing innocent black people for years and it is now finally being brought to the nation’s attention. But he has no facts or statistics to back this up. In fact, his only source is Robert Bogle, the president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune, an African American newspaper. He does not interview anyone in the law enforcement profession or anyone with an opinion different than his own. But he does make an important point.
“The headlines make it feel as if the country is experiencing an unprecedented wave of police violence, but experts say that isn’t the case," McLaughlin said. "We’re just seeing more mainstream media coverage.”
This is important because it shows that whether someone likes the police or not, everyone can agree that police violence is being brought to our attention more than ever before. Journalists like McLaughlin have started what some people call a “hate campaign” against police officers.
“The seeds of this hate campaign were planted as early as 2009, when, without caring about the facts, President Obama publicly lashed out against a white police officer for arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates, a black Harvard professor.This officer did nothing wrong,” Nolte said .
While bringing up how President Obama has influenced the start of this hate campaign brings forward an entirely different topic to analyze, this instance is important because the president went after this police officer for simply doing his job. The police officer was responding to a 9-1-1 call made about the residence. He arrested Gates, even though he was innocent because this is something police officers do all the time. Police officers do this because it is in their job description.It is not their job to arrest the guilty, only a court can determine that. It is their job to arrest possible suspects. The public’s view of police officers only got worse after this controversy.
“Things were ratcheted up a notch in early 2012 after George Zimmerman, a Florida community watchman, shot and killed Trayvon Martin,” Nolte said.
Things took off from there. Suddenly the media was reporting on police officers and how they were “racist.” Because of the way, the media reported on this case. Many Americans blame the police for Zimmerman being found not guilty even though the police are not the ones who determined this, a jury did. Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a public policy think tank in New York City, testified on criminal justice and the de-incarceration movement earlier this year.
Mac Donald is also a writer for City Journal , and had this to say in her testimony, “The most poisonous claim in the dominant narrative is that our criminal justice system is a product and a source of racial inequity.”
The problem with the media calling police officers racists is that the American people are starting to believe that police officers actively seek out black people to arrest or harass them. But, Mac Donald reported prison statistics that there has actually been an increase in white people imprisoned in the last few years, not black people. According to police reports and FBI data, of the roughly 800 people killed by a police officer this year, half were white, and only a quarter were black. This data proves that although the media makes it seem like cops are only shooting unarmed black people, this is not the case. Ninety-five percent of those people killed were for justifiable reasons while only five percent were either undetermined or have the possibility of being because of an illegal action taken by the officer. The media has chosen to either not report on this data at all or bury it beneath the few stories about police injustices. Other than changing the way they report on police officers, the media has made a few other changes due to the rise of citizen journalists and the popularity of social media.
Social media is a topic for a whole other analysis on this subject, but it cannot be left out of this discussion and neither can people who use social media forums to be a new kind of journalist that America has never had before. Because journalism is not a cut and dry profession such as being a doctor or lawyer, really anyone can claim to be a journalist without a certificate or degree. It’s very easy for people to start a blog or make a Facebook page or Twitter profile about something they are passionate about and present it to people as truth. It does not matter if they have anyone or anything to back up their claims because, in this day and age, Americans will believe a lot of what they read on the internet. It sounds outrageous to some people, but it is true. Because these people are not actual professionals working for an organization, they set their own ethical guidelines.
This brings forth a whole new set of problems because a lot of these citizen journalists have joined the hate movement of police officers and post anything online to support their claims that police officers are racist and unethical. An even bigger problem brought on by this is that sometimes the mainstream media chooses to interview these people or quote them in their reporting as a source. Because a lot of citizen journalists don’t fact check and the mainstream media doesn’t take the time to fact check what they are saying, many Americans choose to believe them and their false claims. And the biggest problem of all, the reason this analysis is so important, is the fact that the American people are using this information and acting on it.
It’s not easy to prove that the media has changed Americans’ thoughts about police officers because thoughts are much less concrete than actions. But negative thoughts lead to negative actions.
“According to the FBI, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty nearly doubled from 27 to 51 between 2013 and 2014.That is nearly one murdered police officer a week during 2014, which was also a little over a year after the mainstream media began its coordinated hate campaigns to demonize America’s law enforcement officers,” Nolte reports.
This statistic provides a look at the negative affects the media’s new way of reporting about law enforcement has had. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty was steadily declining for years. The only variable factor in the last few years has been the media’s emphasis on reporting on cases like the Zimmerman case, Ferguson, Brown and so on. Cases where police officers either did their job correctly and were not charged rightly so, or were charged because they were an unethical cop and person. This has given cops a bad name overall and has made them less likely to do their job efficiently and stay safe while they do it.
To conclude, it is important to analyze whether or not there is a solution to this madness. In McLaughlin’s interview with Bogle, Bogle suggested a solution, video. Many police officers are now being required to wear video cameras on their person so that they have evidence of whether or not they used proper tactics.
“Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve," Attorney General Loretta Lynch told MSNBC writer, Will Femia.
In addition to this, black protest groups are encouraging Americans to use their camera phones to record any instances of police violence whether they are the victim or a bystander.
FBI director, James Comey discourages this saying, “scrutiny of police conduct and the threat of exposure through 'viral videos' has generated a ‘chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.”
Even Bogle, a police hater admitted, “most of the time there’s video, it demonstrates the officer did the right thing.”
So maybe the video is the solution. No matter what, though, video evidence will not change the media and put an end to their hate campaign.That is something they have to do on their own. In order for the media to reverse what they have done something they will day admit that they have to do, they need to embrace Rawls’s theory.They need to leave race, gender, income level and so on, out of the discussion when it comes to reporting on crimes and law enforcement. In an ideal world, race would not be something that makes our mind think differently about someone or something they did. We would purely judge people on their character. So maybe that is the solution to this problem, and if so, then that is up to the generations and journalists of the future.