It’s troubling to see how well-intended efforts to capture police-citizen encounters - be it through video recording or conventional journalism - in response to concerns of biased behavior have ironically become stereotypical in and of themselves. The ambiguity of recorded police conduct has rightfully increased public awareness about the pervasiveness of ill-managed implicit bias in police culture and highlighted the need for more robust training. As we near the three year anniversary of the controversial police shooting of Michael Brown by then Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, it is important for society to evaluate the productivity of our response to controversial incidents. It’s illogical to think the police continue to make stops and use force with similar or greater disparities after all that has unfolded since the Ferguson incident.
The Washington Post is one of several media outlets that have done a fair job of creating an impromptu database to track police shootings in response to the lack of a national database. The Washington Post’s database is powered by a constant search query for police involved shootings in new articles published online. Naturally, the ability of the query to locate articles has increased with time as the keywords and search span have been modified. Meanwhile, the fact that policing has become one of the top national issues has undoubtedly boosted the prevalence of reporting. What’s most likely: the amount of controversial stops and uses of force have not increased, but our awareness of them has.
The number of law enforcement officers outfitted with body cameras or the act of a citizen stopping to record a police encounter are the only two acts we know for sure to have increased. With regard to the latter, we have reached a point where the value of the video is limited to the intentions behind the response. If the race of those involved is what prompts a bystander to stop and film a police-citizen encounter because it may be the next viral video, then how is the bystander any more impartial than the bias police officer he or she is hoping to capture?
Another concerning situation involves the individuals who are quick to claim a police shooting was unjustified yet have little understanding of the legislation governing use of force. It is important to note how the mainstream media has never once shown interest in educating the public on the legislation governing police use of force. Investigative reporting into use of force training has also been few and far between. Yet, the media was quick to pick-up on “unarmed” as the provocative, race-neutral adjective of choice in the policing debate and thus have been the purveyors of the false notion that unarmed equals unjustified. The media exists to educate the public, not lead them to believe a false notion that distracts from meaningful dialogue to reduce police uses of force and could potentially put their life in jeopardy. The reality is that these unfortunate incidents are the result of a societal problem. While more de-escalation training is important, it does nothing to change the number of individuals who would have found themselves in what would have otherwise been a potentially lethal situation assuming police were effectively able to de-escalate the situation – something that is no guarantee. It has become popular to paint these unfortunate incidents as the fault of law enforcement instead of engaging in dialogue that questions why they occurred when they don’t have to. Thus, by not reconciling the larger societal problems that lead individuals to these encounters with law enforcement we are only continuing to do those who lost their life an injustice by leaving the pathway open to more unfortunate losses of life.
You can follow Jack Wagstaff on Twitter: @wagstaffjh
The Millennial Review is taking the fight to the front lines as we battle for conservatism in the millennial generation. Join us! Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.