After Ferguson two New York City policeman were assassinated, then the five at Dallas and three in Baton Rouge. As could be expected from the President, and throughout the black community, the reaction has been both shock and sympathy for the fallen officers and their families. They are calling for love, not hate, reconciliation not violence, reactions that should be expected of them and the only hope that can see us through.
But no matter how heartfelt their reaction has been, we can expect little improvement in the hostility towards policemen expressed by Black Lives Matter protesters and others’ fury about unarmed black men being shot by the police. What can make a great deal of difference is for moderates to straighten the misinformation that animates a good deal of the hostility.
From the very beginning of the narrative that the police have been shooting innocent black men, the media has played up racism as the motive. Starting with Ferguson, a shooting that the Grand Jury took the unusual step of making their deliberations public. This was followed by Obama’s Justice Department which independently went over the evidence. There was no question that the policeman involved was legitimately defending himself. There was gunpowder on Michael Brown’s hands from trying to grab the officer’s gun. He did not have his hands up. He was charging the officer. These facts were available to any reporter who did a minimum of research. (And I mean a minimum) Yet Ferguson is cited again and again and again by the media as an example of the police targeting innocent black men.
Following Ferguson, Philadelphia’s black police chief asked the Justice Department to study the problem there. In Philadelphia there are six times the number of shootings by the police as in NYC. The Justice Department studied the pattern of OIS (officer involved shootings) when the suspect turned out to be unarmed (a great many of those shot were suspected of having arms). Sure enough 80% of those shot owing to “a misinterpreted threat perception” were black and their average age was 20. However the threat perception failure rate for white policemen was 6.8% with black suspects. For black policemen it was 11.4% and for hispanic policemen it was 16.8%. So apparently fear of the black suspects and acting on that fear was least prevalent among white policemen. One other statistic is worth noting. In keeping with the belief that having to patrol dangerous places is the main factor behind OIS, a map of Philadelphia was made which clearly shows that the shootings, by far, most commonly occurred where there is the highest amount of crime and homicides, particularly districts 22 and 25. In black middle class neighborhoods no one was shot by the police.
Why has the media not presented the facts about Ferguson? Why has there not been more awareness of the Philadelphia study? Most of us who watch the news know how often they amp up happenings, to capture the most viewers. This is true of hurricane coverage as much as racially charged incidents, but there is another factor operating here. The media has been afraid to appear racist by not going along with the Black Lives Matter perspective. Another explanation is possible. They feast on extremist sentiment. It brings viewers. They also consider gotcha, pursuit of the truth, their most noble undertaking, not to mention that it turns them into society’s policemen, for nasty men and women a delicious display of their power.
I assume fear motivates someone like Oprah or former Mayor Dinkins of New York and I should add President Obama. They have a legitimate perspective. They fought hard to get to where they are and part of that fight has been to shut up. They don’t want to appear to be on white people’s side in these controversies. It could be seen as a betrayal. It isn’t just them. When the Justice Department’s findings totally exonerated the white policeman in Ferguson, it released this information together with a with a condemnation of the Ferguson Police Department for their racist policies. The media focused on that, not the innocence of the policeman
Even after the two New York City policemen were executed by a man furious with what he had been told happened in Ferguson, Obama held back from cooling things down. He was against shooting policemen he said and he was also against the rioting in Ferguson that followed the grand jury’s announcement of their findings. But this man, who considers himself to be the president of all the people, could not bring himself to proclaim Officer Wilson’s innocence. He did not mention that Officer Wilson had never used his gun before. The best he could do is this. During a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College, a historically black school he said to the crowd:
“Officer Wilson, like anybody else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and reasonable-doubt standards… And if there is uncertainty about what happened, then we can’t just charge him anyway because what happened was a tragedy.”
Again. There isn’t uncertainty! Obama likes to present himself as a hero of sorts, Oprah is thought of as a wise woman. Clearly they don’t deserve kudos for courage. I am making a plea to them and all black leaders. Before any more policemen are killed it is not enough to whisper platitudes. Your reluctance to speak loudly is understandable but too much is at stake here for you to hold back. There is so much that can be said to help heal the wounds created by polarization. Why won’t you bring into the narrative the fact that during the Civil war 360,000 white men from the north lost their lives trying to free black slaves? There is a lot to be said without appearing to be an apologist. The point of this article is people like Oprah and President Obama would not be apologists. They are trusted to not only say what they truly believe, but also to rise above most other people sentiments.
Wow, could that be something. Courage from one leader, with the support of the other is possible. It could save lives. Or are they, like everyone, so afraid of our media that they allow its mean righteousness to go completely unchallenged? Oprah and President Obama have the opportunity to truly earn the respect their persona has given them.
It doesn’t even have to be now. There will be many Fergusons, many times when people have been driven to hysteria by lies. Sometimes truth has a way of getting though.The way people trust you, it’s possible you can do it.
If not now, perhaps the next time. Whenever it happens it won’t be too late. Especially you Barack. They’ve already given you the Nobel Peace Prize. You have little to lose.