Hey folks. I know that normally I’ve spent much of my time on this blog doing fluff pieced about Disney characters and their relative badassery and silly top ten lists and that rap battle list I still need to finish and whatnot, but today we’re not talking about any of that. Steve wanted me to post an article (and by that I’m sure he meant something as simple as “finish your stupid rap battle list already, would you?” but I’m not gonna do that today. Today we’re gonna have a real article for the first time in a long time and it’s gonna deal with a couple of young guys around my age who are dead now. Let’s jump right into this.
On America, Race, and the Militarization of the Police.
Oh yeah, we’re going here. I wasn’t going to talk about any of this, by the way. I was going to continue doing that thing where I keep my opinions on these things private (that is to say, between Steve and myself) but I just can’t anymore. Believe me, I sure would like to but I just can’t. See, here’s the thing: There’s been lots of talk around social media (that is to say, my Facebook and twitter) and it’s got a pretty specific dichotomy:
On Twitter, my feed is filled with tweets dealing with the situation in Ferguson Missouri in the wake of the shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown. On Facebook, I am now starting to see more and more things about a young man by the name of Dillon Taylor. Both men were shot by police officers (Brown by a Ferguson Police Officer and Taylor by a Salt Lake City Police Officer) within days of each other (Brown was shot on August 9th and Taylor was shot August 1th). Here-in lies the trick, though: both bring race into the conversation but in opposite ways; in the case of Brown’s shooting, the “white officer murders unarmed black youth” narrative comes into full swing while in the case of Taylor’s shooting, the narrative has become “black officer murders unarmed white youth.”
This is all quite troubling for many of the same reasons. In both cases, sweeping generalizations are made about both cases before any of the facts are made known; In the case of Dillon Taylor’s shooting, the race of the officer is, and I cannot stress this enough, still as of yet unknown. Unfortunately, in this day and age silly little things like “a lack of facts” or “missing key details” will absolutely not stop people from reporting on things. That stuff in the link, right there? Muckraking at its absolute finest. No, this is lower than muckraking; this isn’t searching out any variety of shocking information it’s just publishing whatever it can so as to capitalize off of a terrible situation.
What troubles me the most, though, is that in these horrible, horrible situations “news” sites seem to find ways to make them dramatically worse. Take, for example, this popular story written by Brian Anderson I’ve seen on my Facebook news feed a number of times: **Warning: Madness Lies Beyond**
This, ladies and gentlemen, is journalism today. This is reporting. Remember the time when reporting and editorializing were two separate things? Well, reporting is really hard and doesn’t garner as many clicks. So, this is where we’ve landed. Take, for example, this shining example of journalistic integrity:
“It may come as a shock to all of the leftist pundits and civil rights activists calling for justice in Missouri that white guys actually get shot by the police too, even unarmed ones.”
What, exactly, is the point of this comment if not to simply to create conflict? Why does this “us-versus-them” narrative belong in a story dealing with the tragic death of a youth? Why are we choosing to exacerbate this narrative of black-versus-white in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson? I don’t have the answers to these questions. That’s sort of how hypothetical questions work, you know. I don’t think there’s a place in this story for race *especially* this hyper-divisive Whites-versus-Blacks narrative. I don’t care how much people eat that shit up; in the case of Dillon Taylor this white-versus-black narrative does not belong there. Wanna know why? That is not a hypothetical question because I have the answer to that one. It doesn’t belong there because, and I cannot stress this enough, Dillon Taylor was Hispanic. A few days after Dillon Taylor was shot, Jerrail Taylor, his brother, raised issues about racial profiling and asserted that his brother was Hispanic.
Little things like “Facts” and “direct statements from family members detailing that their deceased relative was Hispanic” sure didn’t stop Mr. Anderson from writing the following:
“Clearly the media and outraged activists don’t actually care when an unarmed young man is gunned down by the police; they only make a big stink if that man happens to be black and the shooting officer is white. The total lack of coverage of Dillon Taylor’s death proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Yep. This sure proves a whole lot of things. Like, that fact-checking is difficult as all hell and that if you’re Hispanic and look sort of like a white person you get a free white-person card but only in the absolute shittiest of situations.
But enough about the journalistic integrity of Brian Anderson’s inflammatory, divisive, editorial-pretending-to-be-journalistic article; let’s focus back in on the topic at hand. Two young men are dead, and the bullets that killed them were fired by officers of the law. Let’s look at some cold facts: Michael Brown was shot six times. Dillon Taylor was shot twice. Neither was armed. Michael Brown was, at the time of his shooting, 6’4” and weighed 292 lbs.; he was referred to by teachers as a “gentle giant.” Dillon Taylor was, by all accounts, wearing headphones while police officers shouted commands at him and was only shot after he moved his hands to turn off the music. Before I go any further with this, I highly recommend that anyone still going along with this stop right here and give the following link a quick read; trust me, it’s worth the read.
For those of you who can’t be bothered to give that a read (but have time to give this a read? Hmm), that link sends you to a post on Reddit.com in which a police officer explains why (in his experience) unarmed civilians sometimes end up getting shot. It boils down to a lot of factors, one of which being the officer fearing for his own safety; in this officer’s anecdote, a man was brandishing something he couldn’t quite see in the dark of the night (1:30 AM) and threatening to “fucking kill him.” Instead of immediately shooting this clearly disturbed individual, the officer backed off until the two were in a well-lit area. It was at this point that the item the man was brandishing was a Ninja Turtles toothbrush. I shit you not.
“Mark, what the hell does this have to do with anything?” Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.
This man didn’t charge the officer. He didn’t charge this officer’s back-up and he didn’t charge a bystander either (oh, by the way, bystanders were filming all of this with cellphone cameras, of course). If this man *had* charged any of these people before they identified what he was holding, he would have been shot dead. What makes that link an interesting read (seriously, if you haven’t read it yet go back and read it. It is so very worth it. I’ll wait……..) is the following summation of how the media would react:
“So what if I had killed him?
Well, the cell phone videos would be out. The media would report, initially, the most simple version of the story:
Townsville Metro Police Kill Man Wielding Toothbrush.
Reddit is pretty quick with things like this, so shortly thereafter on the front page:
Police officer MURDERS man over ninja turtles toothbrush.
The initial news headline would play out for a bit, until they got a few more details.
Townsville Metro Police Shoot Young Black Man Wielding Toothbrush.
Another media outlet, upset that they didn’t get the initial scoop, goes with something a bit more sensational to grab the media consumer’s attention:
Townsville Police Kill Unarmed Young Black Man.
There you have it. The average media consumer’s opinion has already been formed by the headline – many won’t even bother to read the story. Even if they did, the story will contain the most basic of details. Cops shoot guy, guy only has toothbrush.”
Hmm. Does this scenario sound vaguely familiar to anything else? Funny, that. One thing not a soul has considered in this situation is the police officers’ feelings in this situation. Michael Brown was a large man and he very well might have made the Police Officer who shot him feel threatened (pardon my conjecture) and Dillon Taylor was, allegedly reaching into his pocket to turn off his music at a site where Police Officers were told an armed man was located; they very clearly thought Taylor was that gun-wielding individual and may have worried that he was going to pull out that gun and start shooting at them. These things are *very* possible, and no one knows because no one has bothered to ask (not that anyone would listen at this point; the White-versus-Black train’s already left the station and it seems to have taken reasonable debate and rational thought with it). That being said, THE OFFICERS IN THESE SITUATIONS ARE EQUALLY AT FAULT AT THE SAME TIME.
In the case of Michael Brown, in what reality is an officer justified in shooting an unarmed man six times? Was five shots too few? Was he using a six-shooter and the trigger got stuck and the gun just kept on a-firing? What of Dillon Taylor? Was this officer justified in shooting an un-armed Dillon Taylor? Were the two shots to his chest absolutely necessary? Could they not tell that he could not hear their commands? Was shooting Dillon Taylor in the chest right off the bat completely necessary? More Hypotheticals, I’m afraid; I’m not a cop and judgment calls such as those are outside of my pay grade. It does seem to circle back to this one issue that’s not particularly new and that issue is the Militarization of the Police in Post-9/11 America. About a year ago The Wall Street Journal released an article talking about exactly that and much of it is still relevant today, and the Huffington Post has a bunch of articles talking about the Militarization of the Police as well.
See, whether you want to believe this or not, many police departments in the United States currently have equipment that, in my personal opinion, they don’t really need per-se. Don’t believe me? I beg to differ. Did you click that link? Does everything look perfectly normal in that picture? Are you confused about what you’re looking at? Well, allow me to explain: that is a picture of a Ferguson police officer clad in camo (for some reason?) brandishing a AR10 with a silly assortment of instruments attached to his weapon.
“Mark, you don’t know shit about guns stop your bullshitting you don’t know if those things are necessary or not!”
You know what, hypothetical voice of outrage? You are absolutely right. I don’t know much of anything about guns. Because of this inadequacy, though, I did my research on this particular photograph and here’s what someone who *does* know a thing or two about guns had to say about this officer’s set-up:
“He seems to be using high powered optics… for relatively short/medium range. He has a flashlight, a bipod but is using a tripod and has a red dot sight mounted at the front of his gun on a 45 mount on the wrong side of the gun. Also, it’s usually best to shoot without wearing a helmet that gets in the way but that’s forgivable.”
So yeah. That assortment of instruments bolted onto the weapon in question that I called silly a couple of seconds ago? Less silly and more completely unnecessary and/or ridiculous. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Take a moment and look back at that picture linked above. Hell, I’ll link it again right here for the lazy. Look at the bottom of that picture. Notice anything particular? Like those bars, for example? Do you get the inkling that maybe he’s sitting on top of something? Of course you do because you are a hopscotch reader and everyone knows that Hopscotch readers are very smart cookies (and so devilishly good-looking too). Well, he’s sitting on top of this. No idea what that big vehicle with “Tactical Operations Unit” is? Well, for brevity’s sake, it’s a goddamn mine-resistant armored truck. No, this is not a picture snapped during the St. Louis County Police’s annual training exercises in an oddly suburban section of Afghanistan. These officers are standing watch while people peacefully protest the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 13th. Fortunately for those civilians, a platoon of heavily armed police officers decked out in military-grade equipment will surely quell any sort of tension and not make the situation one hundred times worse (for the record, I was shooting for sarcasm in this line).
The question is: Why the camo? Why the military-grade equipment? Does Ferguson, Missouri have an unusually large frequency of IED incidents? There’s no real practical reason for this. They’re not using the camo, for example, to blend into their very suburban surroundings. What they are using the camo for, though, is to more or less frighten the layperson. You see, these police officers wearing their camo and holding their rifles with their “goofy and impractical” setups and riding in their mine-resistant armored trucks serve one purpose: they are there to, in the mind of civilians, draw a connection between the police force and the military. Hell, in that last article it was pointed out that these officers are wearing goddamn marine camoflauge for fuck’s sake. If a suburban police force wearing goddamn marine camoflauge is not telling of a militarized police force I clearly don’t know what is or is not. Oh, and one last thing on the Militarization of the Police: I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THIS IS A PROBLEM.
But stories about an overly-militarized police force don’t get you page views or increased traffic. You know what does? A good ‘ole fashioned White-versus-Black narrative. I read on my Facebook the other day that people like President Obama and Al Sharpton don’t want to bring this nation together, they only want to create racial tension. I respectfully disagree and pose the following question: Who is more in the wrong, Al Sharpton allegedly creating racial tension or the countless media outlets that either perpetuate his rhetoric or twist his words in order to fuel their rhetoric? This last hypothetical is, once again, above my pay grade; you make that call for yourself.
Mark Piltz Jr.