Police brutality is an issue that is reoccurring every day, and although the media portrays it as racial conduct, there are statistics to prove that it is not.
Since May of 2013, 2,776 people have been killed by U.S. police officers. Out of those 2,776 people, 674 were colored and 1,090 of them were white. Shockingly though, all that media ever shows is police force against black people, and most of the time, it is shown out of context, which is causing an uproar all across the states. In order to take race out of their coverage of police brutality when it is not relevant, the media can do thorough investigations of the cases rather than relying on un-credible sources for their information.
Before going any further, I want to give the definition of police brutality, so that there is no confusion on what I mean whenever I reference it. Encyclopedia.com defines it as “the use of any force exceeding that reasonably necessary to accomplish a lawful police purpose.” This definition establishes a standard conceptualization of a word that is ambiguous in popular media.
Over the past year, there have been many different stories covered by media bringing awareness to police brutality; however, it seems it is only brought up when a black person is the victim. It all started on July 17, 2014 when Eric Garner was “choked to death” (Davis). Garner was a 43-year-old black male who had been out on bail for a number of reasons including possession of marijuana and illegally selling cigars. When Daniel Pantaleo, a white New York City Police Department officer, confronted and attempted to arrest Garner on the streets, Garner resisted arrest. With Officer Pantaleo being much smaller than Garner, he had to use a “takedown procedure he was instructed in how to perform while in the police academy” (Cohen) that was horribly mistaken for a chokehold. According to a video of the incident that was taken by a passing civilian, Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” which later brought about headlines for Daily News: “We Can’t Breathe.” In trying to prove that this was a “white versus black” case, Sean Davis references John Edwards: There are two Americas. There’s an America where people kill for no legitimate reason are held to account, and there’s an America where homicide isn’t really a big deal as long as you play for the right team.
“Unfortunately, Eric Garner was a victim of the second America, where some homicides are less equal than others” (Davis). Sadly, that was only the beginning of a false representation that police brutality is a matter of racial profiling.
Less than a month later, another “racist” incident occurred resulting in a riot. On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Missouri police officer. The media covered this story as “A white officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old,” putting much emphasis on skin color. It quickly became another “white versus black” narrative, and whenever the story hit the news, the only thought that people had was that Wilson was “racist” and that if Michael Brown had been white, he would still be alive today. However, that is not the case. Shortly before Wilson had approached Brown, Brown had stolen cigars from a convenience store. After being asked to step to the side by Officer Wilson, Brown began to “struggle” with Wilson bruising his face severely. As Brown tried to escape, Wilson began shooting at him with one of those shots killing him. Witnesses say that Brown had his hands up surrendering while Wilson continued to shoot; however, the autopsy report contradicts such reports. After the death of Michael Brown, an uproar came about in Ferguson, Missouri with citizens protesting “Black Lives Matter.”
The way that media is portraying these incidents is harmful. It is leading others to believe that every white-on-black case is racial misconduct, and that is clearly shown in the Freddie Gray story. Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old African American male who had frequent run-ins with the law and had been arrested over 12 times. Gray also had many convictions, mostly dealing with drugs. On the morning of April 12, 2015 after making eye-contact with four police officers, Freddie Gray took off running for a reason that is still unknown today. The police officers chased Gray on-foot, pinned him down and hand-cuffed him. They then dragged him into a van without providing any medical attention. At some point during the interaction with the officers, Gray ended up with a severe spinal injury which later killed him. In reaction to what happened, what started out as a peaceful protest turned into violent chaos. The citizens were again protesting #BlackLivesMatter. What the people fail to realize is that this was not even a racial incident; it was just police brutality at its finest.
There are many problems with today’s media and how they portray this specific issue. It is very rare that excessive force being used amongst a white person makes national news. Even when it does, protesters aren’t crowding the streets and creating a riot.
On July 26, 2015 Zachary Hammond, a white 19-year-old male, was pulled over by two police officers for a drug check. The gear shift was located near the floor of the car, so whenever he slowed down and reached below him to put the car in park, an unidentified person falsely accused Hammond of having a gun. That accusation led to Zachary Hammond being fatally shot by police officers who did not even know if he really had a gun or not. After investigating the scene, it became clear that Hammond had no gun nor any drugs. However, because this was not a white-on-black narrative, it did not make a top story on mainstream media. But, why is that? It was along the same lines as the Michael Brown, and Eric Garner stories, there just was not a black man involved this time. There is only one thing that all three of these stories have in common, and that is the police brutality itself.
When the subject-matter comes up, many people would agree that this is a racial issue, but there are also many people, such as President Barack Obama, who would say that it has nothing to do with the color of the victims’ skin. As an act to remind America that police brutality is something that impacts everyone, President Obama made the following statement, “It is incumbent on all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem, not just a black problem, or a brown problem, or a Native American problem. This is an American problem.” In agreement with President Obama is Michael Minkoff. In his article, “Police Brutality Is Not a Racial Issue,” Minkoff says, “The main problem with law enforcement is not racism. If we were paying attention, we would already know this.” Whether people care to believe that or not, it is true. Police brutality has been so heavily distorted by the media to a point where all people can make out are the racial aspects of it.
To put things in another perspective, it seems as if America has been brainwashed by media into seeing every “white versus black” narrative as a racial issue. It is as if they, the media, are trying to make history repeat itself, by forcing everything to become race related. That alone is a very harmful situation that should have never been brought up in the first place.
It is no doubt that there is a problem here, and whether people choose to believe that it is racism playing its role in the way police behave or whether it’s just a flaw in the police force itself, there is no denying the fact that something is at stake here. However, the problem fluctuates between different people’s perspective. When asked his viewpoint on the situation, Omri Zeiad Reown, a 15-year-old African American, said this, “I believe that there is a problem, but I also think that it’s so hard to tell if it is truly based upon race or not. I feel like what a police officer says and what he is thinking can be two different things.” As he continues, he mentions how the media tends to leave out important information whenever explaining police brutality cases, and how that could be a potential cause for more protests and more occurrences where race seems to play a part in the misconduct.
In agreement with Reown that there is a problem is Claire Groden. However, according to her, the issue is not police brutality itself; it is the racially profiled police brutality that is the issue. In her article, “Don’t Let Police Killings of Unarmed Black Men Become Another Forgotten News Fad,” Groden says, “[due to the recent police brutality cases dealing with colored men] the media has focused attention to police brutality and law enforcement’s institutionalized racism.” What Groden, along with many others, fail to realize though is that excessive force used by police officers does not just happen to men of color; it happens to every race.
Police brutality is real, and racism is real, but that does not mean police brutality is race-related. Police officers are supposed to be a symbol of security; therefore people shouldn’t fear them, but whenever the media makes them out to look like the bad guy, there is going to be trepidation.
The media has already done enough damage by falsely accusing police officers of being racist and only going after a man of color when the real problem rests in the hands of law enforcement itself. Rather than only focusing on black deaths committed by police officers, the media should keep it neutral and professional, and show police misconduct happening to every race. Doing it that way would lessen the hatred, violence, and sense of racism that is going on now.
Although media makes it seem as if there is only the problem of racially profiled police brutality, there are really two, police brutality alone, and the way media is singling out the blacks as if they are the only ones getting mistreated by police officers. In order to make it non-prejudiced, the media can focus more on the real problem and the true facts rather than making police brutality cases seem racially profiled. Also, if Americans would pay closer attention to what is happening in the world around them, they would see what is really going on and then maybe instead of protesting against each other, we can protest with each other.
Jada Chaffee is a student at Waxahachie Global High School. The essay above was submitted for her English 1301 project.
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Davis, Sean. “Hands Up, Don’t Choke: Eric Garner Was Killed By Police For No Reason.” The Federalist. 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2015.
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