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After Police Shootings, Let’s Call a Thing a Thing

Another day. Another Hashtag.

This week, the unfortunate victims were Terence Crutcher, who was apparently killed for nothing more than being Black and having car trouble, and Keith Lamont Scott, who was fatally shot by police in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As law enforcement officers kill even more Black people—sometimes on camera—our hopes of one day seeing justice served are slowly fading with every paid leave check officers receive as an added bonus for taking us out. While it’s painful to see police not held accountable, even more problematic is the media blaming the victim and lionizing police with their refusal to call a thing a thing.

We’ve seen this story before. “Unarmed Black man is shot by the police,” or “Unarmed Black man killed during an officer-involved shooting.” The passive language used in these headlines comes off as nothing more than a ploy to protect the rights of the police officer in an effort to muddy up and tarnish the victim before any real investigation occurs.

When folks read headlines like this they don’t automatically think about the victim involved in the shooting. Based on the comments under most of these news stories, the first thought is “well the cop must’ve had a reason to shoot him” or “a cop just wouldn’t shoot someone without cause.”

Let’s be clear, this type of language is based on nothing more than the assumption that being Black in America means automatically being suspicious.

The current state of police departments in many cities has not changed much from their historical past as the “slave patrols.” They have evolved into a workforce under the motto of “protect and serve,” but throughout the years this creed has not been evident in many urban communities who are often victims of harsh practices and over-policing.

And this is also where the good old media comes in. For as long as I can remember, police officers have been heralded by the media as American icons, much like apple pie and baseball. They are looked at as the pinnacle of protection for our citizens, our communities, and our freedoms. This portrayal, however, ignores the facts around how deadly this profession can be to marginalized communities.

Whenever there is an “officer involved shooting,” many publications use a picture of the officer–smiling and graduating from the academy–side by side with a photo of the victim in either a mug shot, or other unflattering light. This tactic of subtle victim blaming not only demonizes the character of the victim, but also uplifts the image of the police officer. It gives the officer the benefit of the doubt, without even saying a word.

Again, it’s time for the media to call a thing a thing.

Terence Crutcher was not just an unarmed Black man who was “involved” in a police shooting; he was executed on camera. When Officer Betty Shelby decided to use deadly force against a man who complied and obeyed commands, she violated his civil rights and the rights of every Black citizen in this country who have been told that listening to police and following their instructions will keep them safe.

The job of being a police officer should not be used as a shield against the laws by which all citizens must abide. The media’s knee-jerk reaction to give police the benefit of the doubt only furthers the narrative that Black people are more likely to be violent, and prone to “attack” honorable cops who are just doing their job. This idea only furthers the stigma and fear that cops then use as the reason to shoot us.

Media representatives have a duty to report the truth and make sure the narrative does not subtly blame victims in favor of police. Black people are tired of being on the short end of the story and having our lives picked apart for infractions in an effort to protect those whose job it is to protect and serve us.