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Tamir Rice, 12-year-old shot while holding a BB gun by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. (Family photo)

Two More 'Police Incidents,' Shrouded in Media Euphemism

That so many black people are killed by law enforcement is a painful, difficult thing to face. That we don't know how many people is a scandal in itself.

Most media don't go full Giuliani on the issue. But the effort to look away dies hard.

USA Today reported on the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy on a Cleveland playground. Tamir Rice, holding a BB gun, was shot twice in the chest by a rookie cop. Police came to the playground in response to a 911 call in which a man said he was reporting someone, "probably a juvenile," with a gun that was "probably a fake."

The piece, by Jane Onyanga-Omara and John Bacon, included this:

The shooting comes amid a continued nationwide focus on police incidents, including the ongoing grand jury investigation in Ferguson, Mo., and the fatal shooting of a Florida policeman during a house fire outside Tallahassee on Saturday.

 Yeah. Police killing black people with relative impunity and an anti-government zealot who lured first responders to his house with a fire so he could try to kill them–these things are of a piece, as incidents in which police are in some way involved. Please.

The New York Times likely felt it was being poetic, headlining a November 23 account of a probationary officer killing 28-year-old Akai Gurley in a public housing project "In Brooklyn, Two Young Men, a Dark Stairwell and a Gunshot." J. David Goodman's piece continued the parallelism theme:

From different corners of Brooklyn, the lives of Mr. Gurley and Officer [Peter] Liang, two young men separated in age by a single year, collided amid the faint shadows of the stairwell inside 2724 Linden Blvd., one of the buildings in the vast Louis H. Pink housing project.

Even if Gurley's killing was accidental, the "two lives colliding" image suggests that both men were comparably positioned, comparably affected. But only one of them had the power of the state behind him, and a gun. And only one of them is dead.

It's kind of like describing a bicycle being hit by a Mack truck as "two vehicles colliding."

The story notes:

For Mr. Gurley, the stairs, even in their sorry state, offered the best alternative to chronically malfunctioning project elevators. For Officer Liang, their darkness presented a threat.

Did the darkness present a threat to Akai Gurley? It certainly turned out that way.

The policies, practices and attitudes that lead to so many black people being killed by law enforcement have to be confronted. There are some things euphemism can't cover up.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited "The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s" (2019).

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