Media’s portrayal of police divides American public, protests and rallies grow

by Bre Hart ’19 and Abby Gray ’18

On Wednesday night, Sept. 14, Columbus Police responded to a call involving an armed robbery by three young boys. Two of the three young men fled when the police arrived at the scene. One of the boys, Tyre King, had a BB gun that looked identical to a police-issued weapon in his waistband.

King was shot multiple times on his side by a policeman, according to NBC News.

On Monday, Sept. 26, at the Thompson Library on OSU campus, a march was held for Tyre King. Starting at the library and finishing at the intersection of high street and east eleventh avenue, the march was a total of three miles.

During the march, protesters shouted organized chants such as “No justice, no peace. No racist police,” and “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”

The ‘March to Action’ was sponsored by the Coalition for Black Liberation, a cousin to the Black Lives Matter campaign. Maryam Abdi is the organizer of the march and a strong supporter of the movement.

“The police were born out of strike-breaking and slave-catching patrols,” Abdi said. “Policing as an institution is racist and if we don’t begin to dismantle that institution, we’re never gonna get there.”

School resource officer Jon Rice comments on the difficulty of this type of situation.

“I pray I never get into a situation where I would ever have to shoot a teenager. My heart goes out to that 13-year-old young man [Tyre King] because he was on the streets with a [BB gun] that looked exactly like a police gun,” Rice said. “To take the life of a young person, for anybody that’s got kids, it tears you up. I don’t know if I would ever come back to law enforcement if that happened to me.”

Over and over, the words “police brutality” are spoken on national news, sent out on social media, and digested by the general public.

Every time a new instance of excessive police violence is aired, it causes uproar, protest and hurt in communities all across America. Police brutality is persistently covered by media outlets in America.            

Media Monopoly

As the issue of police brutality has grown throughout the country, media coverage has been consistent in covering the top stories.

“Every night for four months, [the media] showed a hit piece on cops,” Rice said. “If they didn’t have something new they would rehash the ones that they had [shown] before.”

The question of who the media favors is a controversial one. Sophomore Emma Merchant believes the media favors white police officers.

“It’s definitely shifted to be in white police officers’ favor,” Merchant said. “The media is definitely biased.”

Rice disagrees that the media favors police officers. To Rice, the media is putting American citizens against the police.

“I don’t know what the news media has to gain from this. Every night showing a hit piece on cops making us look like animals and murderers. All of us. They’re re-educating society,” Rice said. “If every night for four months you saw an employee from Taco Bell spitting in the food, all around the country, what do you think would happen to Taco Bell? They would go out of business. People would think all of these Taco Bells all around the country were the same. We all saw what happened to Chipotle. That was just a flash in the pan for just a couple of weeks and it really hurt Chipotle. Imagine four months of this.”

The way the media portrays police officers in America impacts how people are informed on the issue. Some know both sides, others only know one side.

“I have an opinion, but I’d say I’m not correctly informed,” Merchant said. “There’s no way to be informed in all of the shootings cause they happen all the time.”

Rice believes that not all police officers are biased against people of a minority group. “No police officer I’ve ever met in my entire lifetime says ‘I want to wake up and shoot somebody today.’ that’s the last thing that we would ever want to do, ever,” Rice said. ”Some people have the impression that we’re these authoritarians and we’re just pushing people around, but we’re not like that.”

Retired Deputy Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Ed Rhine believes the media scares people, causing distrust.

“The media portrayal scares people. It scares people into getting back inside their own narratives. When we argue the most, and feel most suspicious of the other, it’s because we can’t get inside the narrative of the other side. We can’t understand what they’re trying to say. We don’t take the time to understand,” Rhine said.

Rhine believes that each time the media covers a story un-objectively, it hardens people’s opinions and passions, creating dangerous conflict in the form of riots, violent protests and hateful speech. The amount of resistance people portray towards the other viewpoint  and the more they push their own opinions out without considering any alternative perspectives, the more distrust grows between communities and police.

Public push-back

Violent protests broke out in Charlotte, North Carolina where protesters mobbed busy streets and looted stores and vehicles. They smashed police cars and threw things at police forces, injuring 17 police officers, according to The Charlotte Observer.

“People are getting the impression that it’s OK to resist the police. It’s OK to push back on them, and tell them ‘I didn’t break the law.’ The police wouldn’t be there if you didn’t break the law or somebody perceived you broke the law,” Rhine said. “Everybody that’s seeing this stuff, it’s retraining their minds to say, ‘I don’t like cops.’ You get a lot more people that hate us and disrespect us.”

Rhine proposes that preconceived opinions that communities have of officers, and police misjudgment of citizens, creates a blurred image of confusion and hate.

“There are times that police are authorized to use lethal force, but we have to understand that law enforcement practices in black neighborhoods in particular, that have concentrated racial issues and concentrated poverty issues, create an incredible ill will. Police don’t understand the community, the community doesn’t understand the police, and it becomes toxic,” Rhine said.

The riots breaking out across our country for the past months are widening the gap between officers and citizens, creating immense distrust on both ends, and deepening a problem rooted in fear and a lack of understanding.

“There are clearly some urban areas, with a high concentration of poverty and racial dynamic, that feel completely under assault by the police. That any encounter with law enforcement will only result in harm. In some of those same communities, the law enforcement officers feel like the communities that they police are corrupt from top to bottom,” Rhine said.

Retraining the media?

There’s a problem of distrust between police and citizens in America. Some people think that problem can be solved through the abolishment of police. Others simply want officer reform, and some think that the media needs to step up and begin giving objective information to the public, rebuilding trust on both sides. Former Washington D.C. policeman Matt Busser is disappointed that the media feeds the public false narratives.

“They are quick to make snap judgments before any evidence is presented in a court of law.  As a result, it’s dividing our country and making it very dangerous for police officers to effectively do their job,” Busser said.

Rhine believes that there are some objective news sources, but more sources need to fulfill their obligation to present unbiased information to public.

“The media has a responsibility to do it’s best to correct some of this. The difficulty is that media can shape perceptions, but you can find good news sources that talk about the complexity of the situation,” Rhine said. “Sometimes when the media steps in, they can change our emotions in such a way that we don’t look at the big picture, we get focused on a very small picture, as tragic as it is, without seeing that there is a much larger political and social context that informs what happened here.”

Re-objectifying news sources could be a step to show the public information that will give them room to think about all sides of a situation, and form opinions based on unbiased accounts of events.

Peace with police

Although it can seem like the country is undergoing an epidemic of police and civilian hate and distrust, there are moments that show promise of growth.

On Sept. 23 in Charlotte, North Carolina, protesters and police paused the violence for one night of peace. Protesters hugged officers, shook their hands and gave them flowers according to CNN.

Rhine describes the aspect of community between police and citizens during the chaos while police were being shot in Dallas this summer.

“The police rushed to protect the protestors, and in some instances the civilians went to protect police officers,” Rhine said.

Not largely covered by media outlets, these peaceful moments have given a new light of hope to citizens informed of the events, by showing the beginning of a bridge being built from communities to their police officers.

Image Caption: Protesters hold signs while marching on the OSU campus looking for justice for Tyre King, a teen who was shot by police Sept. 14 while holding a BB gun. During the march, protesters shouted 12 organized chants over the course of the three miles.