This argument frequently goes along these lines – the only reason there is a fuss about the killings of black men by the police is because the ‘media’ chooses to highlight and elevate these killings, and so we only hear about them, and therefore get outraged.
The number of flawed assumptions and logical errors behind what these men think is apparently a very intelligent argument is hard to parse.
Why this response is reflective of nefarious intentions
It’s not true – It is categorically not true that there is only publicity when black people are killed by white persons. The unjustified shooting of Justine Ruszczyk (Diamond) when she called 911 for help, by Somali-American officer, Mohammed Noor, received widespread attention, protests, and intense media scrutiny. Unlike a lot of the other cases of black men being shot with little justification, this case actually did result in a guilty verdict. The circumstances were much like many of the other shootings that have resulted in the current protests and riots – blatantly unjustified, shooting of a person who actually called the police for help which sparked outrage and disbelief. The killing was the exact same kind of killings that are the impetus behind the movement – that the police are trigger-happy, shooting for little reason, and unreasonably claiming they ‘feared for their life’ when recklessly killing unarmed citizens. More importantly, the reaction followed pattern – people were outraged, for similar reasons, because the killing reflected what seemed, and seems, to be a trend of American police shooting without justification. Whether this is true, is a different point. The issue is that to the extent people believe it to be true, they have reacted consistently and it is blatantly false to claim only shooting of black men evokes a response. As elsewhere noted, the killing of Daniel Shaver, a white man under similarly horrendous circumstances again did evoke a similar reaction from the public. However, the white policeman who shot Daniel Shaver, while the latter was on his knees and hands in the air, was not found guilty. If there is a disproportionate reaction, it is still not in favour of black people. To assert such an obvious untruth, in the light of all this easily available information that white people being killed doesn’t get a response is not the mark of people arguing in good faith.
The argument denies common sense about public interest – The idea that it is because of the way the media portrays and chooses to focus on killings of black men that there seems to be an issue; that it is therefore overblown, hyped up and the social unrest a result of an attempt by a shadowy media conspiracy to whip up racial tension is in denial of simple facts about media, attention and public interest. People, as a collective, always respond to video evidence better – this is not necessarily a bad thing, its why wartime horrors captured on video, bringing home the horror, is why globally society responds with more sympathy and outrage generally, to all kinds of horrors. Secondly, it has been repeatedly noted that it is not the mere fact of a killing, but rather the egregious circumstances of many of these killings – Eric Garner, Ahmed Arboury, tha evokes such a strong reaction. This is not unreasonable, or a conspiracy – in fact it reflects that people are responding appropriately to situations which are so violently at odds with fundamental beliefs about society and justified killings that they evoke outrage. Similar outrage is not to be found, for e.g, over killings after a high speed chase, or in the midst of a violent crime. To actually argue that somehow the differential response to those horrific instances, weakens the arguments behind Black Lives Matter is to not just deny but blatantly ignore common sense, in service of a nonsensical argument.
It is well known that media picks on stories with a high human interest factor, so while that decision making process on the part of the media may skew public attention to dramatic stories – those choices by media outlets do not, firstly, prove that somehow, the killings of black people is given undue, unjustified importance or, secondly, that this therefore weakens the argument against police brutality. Is media focus on unjustified killings by the police supposed to be a bad thing? If the argument is that similar killing of white people, even after reported, does not incite a similar response – as addressed previously, this problem is less about the ‘media’ and a shadowy intent to exaggerate the threat to black people, but more reflective of the apathy of other communities towards their vulnerable being shot by law enforcement for no reason.
To argue, therefore that any perceived disproportionate response delegitimizes the arguments of the current protestors, rather than reflective of a larger issue among other communities – is not the retort of a vaguely intellectual individual seeking to introduce ‘balance and perspective’ – it is a stunningly bad argument to service the false, indefensible narrative that the arguments of Black Lives Matter protestors can be dismissed.
Lawyer, activist against sexual violence and exploitation. You can follow her on twitter @lblwcri.