Cops, Robbers, and Journalists: Who’s Innocent? Who's to Blame?

Editor: We received this impassioned response to a story we cross-posted on our Facebook page this morning regarding incidents in Minneapolis that are unfolding at this writing.  Please see our responses in bold below.


Cops, Robbers, and Journalists: Who’s Innocent?

by Michael Pickett

The editors of The Contributor recently threw gas on the flames of America’s racial unrest with yet another irresponsible headline: “Jamar Clark: 5 Fast Facts you need to know.”  Problem is, only two of their statements are facts (that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence) and the rest are allegations and/or speculation.  The Contributor was joined, of course, by the rest of the media who feed on these tragedies with no regard for the real pain and suffering of the Clark family or the Minneapolis police officers who have the difficult responsibility to patrol neighborhoods where frustration and lack of resources are the only common denominators.  This type of ‘reporting’ does not help; it’s a digital lynch mob.

TC: As mentioned, this article is a cross-posting from The Heavy. While this implies endorsement, and we fully intended to be a conduit of the information, it’s not our piece. Our Facebook page is followed by thousands of activists around the world, and we try to point them to resources and stories that might align with their causes. We chose to post this piece because it delivered what it promised: five facts. None of those facts are disputable, but Mike is right, the tone/subtext is borderline incendiary, and the mood is tense in Minneapolis. Is it our responsibility to NOT highlight these tensions? This is very worthy of pause, and I hope that if you are reading this, you will take the time to leave your opinion in the comments - or write your own response piece. We're probably not going to stop cross-posting information on breaking stories, but we might want to be more cautious.

The cops in Minneapolis may be 100% guilty in a wrongful shooting of Mr. Clark – who may, in turn, be a violent criminal who precipitated his own demise.  I don’t know the facts; and The Contributor doesn’t either.  In an immediate and typically slanted reaction, however, they say they do. Once again, they’ve accepted the instant response of a frustrated, cop-hating crowd as a judicial system.

This is a big problem with media types these days.  They don’t report anymore, they cast out emotional opinion that exacerbates difficult situations.  They seem to think that screaming in frustration somehow blazes a trail to solution.  Frustration is a natural emotion that we’re all prone to experience, but if we don’t replace blame and blind lashing with a search for commonalities, we will never heal perpetual violence.

TC: From our perspective, there are many types of media. The Contributor, as one type, seeks to give voice to activists and is therefore well outside the realm of Pure Journalism, and quite firmly in a subjective and opinionated reality (including our own editorial preference for certain types of activism). We love Pure Journalism as much as we love Pure Data - but the humans that write the words that fill the Contributor are full of emotions and flaws, and we’re OK with that. Pure Journalism is out there, but Mike is right, media “types” exploit a huge range of rhetorical devices to attract audiences. I don’t like it much either, but it is what it is. Another good point to pause upon.

The video of Michael Brown stealing from, and assaulting, a store owner in Ferguson – apart from his altercation with police – proved he had become a person who disregarded consequence.  At that moment we had an opportunity to take a step toward healing to united in grief and reflection of how unacceptable the conditions have become in our major cities – for residents and law enforcement alike.  Our President, Attorney General, and the neighborhood activists could have asked two simple questions following a simple statement of fact; “Michael Brown was once a beautiful young man.  How did he come to be filled with so much anger and so little respect? And, more importantly, how do we change the cultures and environments within our urban centers so this cycle of pain begins to change?”  We chose the easy emotions of anger, blame, and political pandering instead.

So, how do we begin the healing?  How do we reduce the fear and suspicion that makes people hate one and other?  How do we get cops, and neighborhood activists, and frustrated young men to realize they’re all in the same boat?

I wish I had the answer.  I know it doesn’t lie within the flames of incendiary reporting.


TC: Thank you, Mike. This is a wonderful way to close, beginning a conversation on what we might do to heal, to solve. Personally, I don’t agree with these suggestions/conclusions, and perhaps, Mike, you and I can engage in a civil debate in the comments below, or on Facebook. But we’re going to publish this, and encourage all citizens to get involved and give voice. We’re here to amplify passionate, solution-driven thinking. If you have ideas, data, stories, poems, art, photography, podcasts - PLEASE CONTRIBUTE! - and let’s all make this world a little better.

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