False Perceptions and Narratives Fed By the Media Led to the Unrest

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The unrest in the streets, the riots, and looting taking place across the United States is disheartening to watch as businesses are being physically ruined after being economically damaged by the Wuhan flu lockdown.  What is equally disheartening is the false narratives being put out by the media which enable these actions to take a life of their own.  Most studies show that black suspects are more likely to be roughed up by police, not killed.  The police are not more likely to shoot and kill a black suspect; they are not out hunting blacks as some believe.  Perhaps it was true sometime in the not too distant past, but certainly not since 2012-2014 when the idea took off.

There certainly is a history of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in America, but those days are largely gone.  Yes- there are bigots, racists and white supremacists, but not to the degree the media portrays it.  Given that history, it is hard for people to disconnect the issue of police brutality from the past.  In Dallas, a man named Tony Timpa was killed while being subdued by the police by placing a knee on their neck, much like what we saw in the George Floyd video.  When cell phone footage of that incident emerged, there was no protest, no riot, no attacks on police.  The video never even went viral.  Tony Timpa was not black.

There are other videos of non-black suspects being roughed up by police in a show of obvious undue force and brutality.  Some may actually be worse than the George Floyd incident.  However, the media covers these incidents as if blacks are uniquely and disproportionately the victims of police brutality.  And being human beings, the black community is going to act like a human and come to believe that they are being singled out for brutality.

Some people claim this is worse than the riots in the 1960s and 1970s.  This writer, being young at the time and more worried about a good grade in school, couldn’t tell you, other than what I occasionally saw on television.  Those race riots got mixed up with the Vietnam War protests so I did not know (or care) what was what.  But, I do know it ended and there were few race riots in the 1970s and hardly any, if any, in the 1980s when I became more interested in politics (thanks to Reagan).  That unrest in the streets was followed by about 20 years of peace.

The question is whether these incidents will be followed by 20 years of relative peace, and I am somewhat pessimistic in that area.  It is almost impossible to see how one gets rid of the false perceptions and temper the anger given the fact the media has invested so much into it.  Unless the number of unarmed blacks killed by police reaches the unattainable zero, there will be more George Floyd incidents for the media to exploit.  There are over 325 million people in America and the probability of a police-civilian interaction at some point at any given time is extremely high.  One mistaken reach for a gun while reaching for a wallet could end in tragedy.  Conversely, one reach for a wallet could be actually a reach for a gun ending in tragedy also.

Today, everyone is a journalist with a cell phone in their back pocket ready to film anything.  Given this fact, it befuddles me that police would want to use what could later be described as brutality or undue force.  Body cams can malfunction or be turned off by police.  A cell phone video can be uploaded to the Internet in a matter of seconds.  But that also means that a captured video out of context can be uploaded and go viral instantaneously.

The ways these events have been covered and the tone of media rhetoric feeds the sense of despair and anger that causes thousands to take to the streets every night.  In a sense, Americans take for granted the peace and tranquility they enjoy which likely loosens tongues on both sides so that a sober analysis of the issue of police brutality cannot occur.  Further, the media is eerily silent not only about whites who are the victims of brutality, but also the daily killings of black-on-black street crime.  One ventures that the odds of a black person being the victim of street crime are astronomically higher than being killed by a white cop.  Yet these facts are never discussed in the media.  Instead, it is a narrative of continued oppression.

Getting the number of blacks killed by police down to zero is not going to change the narrative.  In 1971, the NYPD alone killed almost 100 people and wounded another 220.  Last year, they discharged their weapons no more than 70 times.  That is progress, but it will never be portrayed as progress.  Instead, the media has instilled in the black community a sense that when an incident like that which occurred in the case of George Floyd, they believe “that could have been my brother/son/husband…”  Some suggest that in these cases, blacks internalize while whites compartmentalize.

Regardless, it has become glaringly obvious that the ensuing unrest and riots have no goals in mind.  Some have called for an end to choke holds, which is all well and good, but having a written police policy against them does not mean they will be enforced.  Just ask Eric Garner since the NYPD had a policy against them.  Others have jumped on the “end qualified immunity” bandwagon, but statistics show qualified immunity works about 4% of the time it is invoked.  The riots in Minneapolis started after the officers involved were arrested and charged.  There are no demands being made, just violence being perpetrated.

As for the peaceful protesters- and there are many- they are victims of the perception that blacks are treated unfairly by the police given the high profile cases culminating in George Floyd, and second the false perception there has been no progress since 2012.  But people do not care about data and facts when there is a 10-second snippet of film on YouTube.  If they see one in 2012 and they see one in 2020, they care a rat’s ass about the fact the number of blacks killed by police between 2012 and 2020 has been more than halved.  These facts are not going to be reported on the news.

If there is a goal, it is that zero blacks are killed at the hands of the police and that number is consistent over many years.  It is an unattainable goal and one that will cause unrest, riots and looting somewhere down the line.  When you have a media hell-bent on stoking the fires with angry rhetoric, it is inevitable.  Face it: for the media today, a burning police cruiser is a lot more “newsworthy” than someone putting a daisy in a rifle.  This writer has no doubt, given the evidence, that the riots are being instigated by leftwing groups like antifa.  Assuming the government follows the money, it would be interesting to see if the media ever reported that.