Tamir Rice and the Media

The shooting of Tamir Rice and the lack of indictment of the two officers has spurred many questions, complaints, defenses, and general thoughts about the case. These will continue through the remainder of the holidays and eventually fold into the general topic of police brutality toward blacks in the United States. The relationship between law enforcement and the black community will continue to be a focus going forward.


Except, that’s one of the problems with this case, like many of the others we’ve watched unfold over the last year or so. The issues between the two groups aren’t by any means new. The unfair treatment of blacks by police officers has been alleged for decades. Why, then, has so much media time been devoted to it in 2014 and 2015 versus the decades that came before them where many other incidents have happened? You have sites like Gawker, scum though they are, that have posts devoted to unarmed blacks killed by law enforcement since the turning of the new millennium.

What is the difference, then, between Tamir Rice and Aaron Campbell of Portland, Oregon? What is the difference between Michael Brown and Shem Walker of New York? The coverage was nowhere near the same. There were no major movements born of them. There wasn’t a level of coverage for any rally comparable to the coverage held today. And, why is that?

The media largely operates under a theory in mass communications called “Agenda-setting Theory,” which is the theory that the media operates in a way to establish the agenda and talking points for the day in three areas: public agenda, media agenda, and political agenda. At the time of the deaths of people like Shem Walker and Aaron Campbell, the media’s agenda was not on race relations or the relationship between blacks and law enforcement. Now it is. The agenda is now all about shining a light on racist practices in law enforcement. But, where was the media for the last 15 years? 20 years? 40 years?


That is a failure of the media, which now tries its best to appear concerned for the innocent lives taken by vicious and cruel law enforcement. Where was the media in 2010? 2009? 2005? When many of these instances occurred even as far back as 2000, where was the wall-to-wall media coverage? Try typing “police unfair to blacks” into Google and begin a search. How many results are polls written about in 2015? For the media to act as though it is caring and sympathetic now is a slap in the face to anyone fighting this battle for more than two years.

Why? Why is the media so focused on it now? Because they realize that the first black president, Barack Obama, did not fix the problems the black community faces. He was The One, wasn’t he? He was supposed to bring racial justice and equality to America. The historic election of the first black president meant things were going to change. But they didn’t. And now where are we?

The media, with this realization, is trying to shine the spotlight on the real issue: That the institution of law enforcement is built on a foundation of racism. That you have to change law enforcement to really fix these issues. Except, law enforcement is part of the state. A state that has grown too large and has too much power will use that power when and where it can and on who it can. That the media is only now trying to hold law enforcement’s feet to the fire on unfair treatment of blacks in a big way shows that they know they have the power to force institutional change.


That they haven’t exposed these issues in the past like they are now is a sign that they have failed in their perceived job of setting the agenda for institutional change. So now, it’s being covered. But, the question they should be asking themselves is this: Could they have saved lives by shining a bigger light on this sooner?


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