Using teen’s death for an agenda

USA Today ranks the three worst jobs in America as 1.) Taxi Driver, 2.) Logger, and 3.) Newspaper Reporter, in that order.

Police Officer doesn’t appear anywhere on the list of 25 Worst Jobs in America. I’m not sure how.

If you needed any clearer indication that law enforcement officers in America are under attack, see the Ma’Khia Bryant incident in Ohio.

On the same day that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and other charges in the death of George Floyd (he’s looking at a significant prison sentence), the 16-year-old Bryant was shot dead by police officers responding to a disturbance in Columbus, and the activists, pundits and politicians greedily pounced.

Having a discussion about policing, police tactics, and how they’re used in communities of color — that’s fair game. Reform where possible is good. Prosecution where necessary is justice. But wanton, broad-brushed targeting of police in an effort to fan the flames of racial animosity is not only dangerous to police, but a danger to American democracy.
As John Podhoretz wrote for the NY Post this morning, the prosecutor’s final plea to the jurors in the Chauvin trial was to “believe your own eyes.” Americans overwhelmingly believed Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd because they watched video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine long minutes as Floyd begged for his life and slowly died.

“The same admonition (believe your own eyes) should be governing the public response to the horrible event in Columbus…but it isn’t,” Podhoretz wrote. He’s right. As was the case in Minneapolis, we have photographic evidence of what transpired in Columbus.” With a knife in her hand, and after being told repeatedly to “get down,” Bryant chases one teen who stumbles and falls in front of police officers, then lunges after another teen with an intent to stab her, before the fatal shots were fired. You’d have a hard time taking an honest look at that photographic evidence and not concluding that force wasn’t justified.

But powerful, influential people in our country aren’t willing to do that. NBA star LeBron James posted an identifying picture of the Columbus officer with the words “you’re next” in a since-deleted tweet. The Biden White House pointed out that the dead teen “was a child” and added, “We know that police violence disproportionately impacts black and Latino people in communities…” Given the context (or lack thereof), it was as irresponsible a statement as anything that came out of the Trump White House. CNN jumped on-board by publishing an op-ed claiming that the Columbus incident is proof that police officers shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to “black and brown communities.”

Across Twitter, the outrage grows as the fans are flamed. Millions of people are — presumably with a straight face — saying that deadly force shouldn’t have been used to stop the 16-year-old. One black community activist even said that teens have been fighting for years — including with knives — and that didn’t justify a police presence. Another person jumped to her defense to say, “Yep, police shouldn’t bring a gun to a knife fight.”

Worse still, before the police body cam footage was released, leading media outlets were pushing a false narrative that the slain teen had called police to the scene for protection, only to be shot four times because police saw a knife laying on the ground and assumed it was hers.

What if that police officer in Columbus had acted as many pundits and politicians are indicating he should’ve and not intervened with force? There’s a very good chance that a black teen would still be dead. It would be the teen who was being attacked by the knife-wielder, not the other way around. Police are supposed to “protect and serve,” and that’s what the officer in Columbus was doing: he was protecting an unarmed victim who was being attacked with a knife. Merely wielding that knife is aggravated assault — a felony. Using it is attempted murder. Or murder. And what then? What if police had stood by while that girl was stabbed? If she had died, what then? Would the narrative have been, “Police only stood by and watched a teenager die because she was black and they don’t care about black people”?

If one of my kids were being attacked by someone with a knife, I’d sure hope there was an officer with a gun on hand to intervene — regardless of what color the officer was, regardless of what color the attacker was, regardless of what color my kid is. That’s what police are supposed to do.

It’s a tragedy that the girl died. Sixteen-year-olds can be perpetrators and still be victims. There’s a discussion to be had about what 16-year-olds are doing on the street, armed and resorting to violence. You can sympathize with the situation while at the same time realizing that police were justified, just as you can acknowledge that there are some bad cops — just like there are some bad newspaper reporters who twist the truth to fit a narrative and some bad teachers who prey on the children in their trust — without wholesale attacks on the profession.

But when you see the reaction of leading news organizations like CNN and the New York Times, and of politicians and pundits, it’s fair to ask: Is this about justice? Or is it about fanning the flames to create dissent?

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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