Part 4—The imperfect death of John Geer: Last night, Tavis Smiley guested on The O’Reilly Factor. The progressive PBS host was appearing in support of his new book about Maya Angelou.
Smiley continued the conversation he had with Sean Hannity last Thursday night. Along the way, he expanded his earlier statements about police shootings and race.
Below, you see the exchange which ended last night’s session. Smiley said he doesn’t believe that policed agencies are “targeting” young black men. He also said that police mistreat “far more” whites than blacks. Beyond that, he may have endorsed a certain statistic O’Reilly had cited earlier.
We can’t speak to the perfect accuracy of any of these judgments. But for starters, here’s what was said:
O'REILLY (4/15/15): Let me ask you one more question here. Do you believe that police agencies around the agency are targeting young black men to hurt them?To watch the whole segment, click here.
SMILEY: I do not. Here’s what I do believe—
SMILEY: I do not. We agree. But here’s what I do believe. What I do believe is that, too often in these conversations, you and others suggest, every time one of these incidents happens, that it's an isolated incident. My question to you, Bill O'Reilly, is how many isolated incidents equal a pattern?
O'REILLY: I can't answer the question. I can only give you—
SMILEY: Now you’re dodging, right? Now you're dodging!
O'REILLY: No, because it's an impossible— I'm not dodging. It’s an impossible question to answer with any certainty. All I can do is give you the statistics. And in 2013, I believe it is—might be 2012—it was like 135 black men killed by police. There is 1.2 million police in the country. So I wouldn't say that's a pattern, Tavis.
SMILEY: Which makes my point. When you try to tell black people, every time one of these incidents happens and another precious young life is lost, that it's just an isolated incident, that’s offensive, number one. But number two—
O'REILLY: If the numbers aren't there to support the pattern, you got to say it.
SMILEY: I agree. I agreed with your facts earlier. There are far more white people maimed by cops every day in this country than black people. This is why this ought to be a concern for all Americans. Not a color-coded issue. We have got to respect and revel in the humanity of all fellow citizens.
O'REILLY: And I have to stick up for the cops because I think generally they are doing a good job. But great debate, Tavis. Always good to have you on the program.
SMILEY: Thank you.
As he did last week, Smiley said that more white people are “maimed” by police than blacks. As far as we know, that’s accurate in the aggregate, though not as a percentage.
Earlier in the segment, O’Reilly had cited a statistic he sourced to the CDC. According to the CDC, “three times as many white folks are shot by police as black folks,” O’Reilly had said.
We don’t know if Smiley meant to endorse that claim when he said “I agreed with your facts earlier.” To see FactCheck.org discuss that statistic, you can just click here.
As many people have noted, the nation’s statistics about police shootings are highly imperfect. That said, we thought Smiley’s discussions have been intriguing and important, for a basic reason.
In the past few years, many news orgs and advocacy groups have discussed police shootings of blacks. A string of examples have been presented, sometimes with videotape.
These examples are intended to illustrate a problem. Some examples have been massaged to turn them into “perfect examples” of the alleged situation, in which police are said to be “targeting” blacks.
The shooting of Michael Brown last August was originally seen as one such perfect example. The public was offered a set of facts which, in some cases, have apparently turned out to be false.
Uh-oh! Last month, the Justice Department affirmatively judged that the shooting of Brown was justified. But so what? Last week, the New York Times editorial board seemed to be restoring this unfortunate incident as a perfect example of police misconduct. In the Washington Post, Gene Robinson followed suit.
Alas! When “journalists” want to sell a narrative, they often invent or ignore basic facts to create their perfect examples.
Inevitably, they’ll do something else. They’ll disappear egregious examples which don’t reinforce the pattern they want you to see and believe in.
In the current instance, this means ignoring examples in which white people get shot by police—examples which don’t support the racial pattern which is being promoted. This represents a second way in which the public can perhaps get misled.
Today, let’s consider a striking example of police conduct which has gone undiscussed on the national scene. Smiley said this problem extends beyond the black community. As an example of what he means, let’s consider the rather remarkable shooting death of John Geer.
Geer was shot to death by a Fairfax, Virginia policeman in August 2013. One year later, Michael Brown was shot to death in Missouri.
Geer’s death seems to involve an egregious case of police error, followed by a remarkable example of administrative inaction. Nineteen months later, the case has not been discussed on the national stage.
For the Washington Post, the shooting of Geer is a local story. In January of this year, the Post discussed the case in an angry editorial.
Seventeen months had now passed. The editors summarized thusly:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (2/3/15): The Fairfax stonewallAs they continued, the editors noted that the police “did not seek medical treatment for Mr. Geer or retrieve his body for more than an hour.”
In broad daylight and at close range, three Fairfax County police officers saw a fourth officer, Adam Torres, shoot John Geer once in the chest in August 2013. Two other witnesses, Mr. Geer's father and a friend, also saw it. All five of those witnesses agreed that Mr. Geer, who had a holstered handgun at his feet, had his hands up at the moment Officer Torres pulled the trigger.
Mr. Geer, a 46-year-old father of two, committed no known crime that day. He had been speaking calmly with the officers for almost three-quarters of an hour when the lethal shot was fired. He then bled to death just inside the doorway of his home.
That was more than 17 months ago, and still there has been no accounting for Mr. Geer's death. No charges. No indictment. No prosecution. And no information until last week, when the police, complying with a judge's order, finally released thousands of documents.
Those documents provide a stark picture: Only Officer Torres contended that Mr. Geer made a sudden movement as if going for a gun.
Everyone involved in this case has dropped the ball and dodged responsibility, enabling what now looks like a coverup in a case of police impunity.
In fairness, there were complicating factors involved in this incident. For a lengthy front-page report on the facts, you can just click this.
We're not suggesting that this case is typical police conduct. We think it clearly is not.
That said, this seems to have been an actual case in which a person who really did have his hands up was shot and killed by a policeman. Three other policemen at the scene have said the shooting wasn't justified.
This shooting happened exactly one year before the shooting of Michael Brown. But no one in the national media presented this incident as a companion case to that much-discussed shooting.
Last week, the New York Times editorial board began reinventing the facts about the shooting of Brown. So did Gene Robinson in the Washington Post.
On a journalistic basis, this is egregious conduct. But our highest-ranking “journalists” pimp favored narratives in such ways all the time.
There’s no excuse for their misconduct. But they continue at will.
To what extent do police officers and police agencies “target” young black men? Especially in the absence of data, we can’t really tell you.
But in recent years, our “journalists” have sold us a string of examples, some of which have been perfected, designed to advance a preferred impression about police conduct. To help us see the world as they want us to see it, they massaged facts about the shooting of Brown, skipped past the shooting of Geer.
Robinson should be ashamed of himself for the column he wrote last week. That said, people are dead all over the world in part because of the conduct in which he engaged while “reporting” Campaign 2000.
Whatever! At the end of last week’s column, Robinson made one last peculiar presentation. This is terrible journalistic work of a familiar kind:
ROBINSON (4/10/15): The fact is that not everyone who is ever stopped by a police officer is going to be happy about the experience. Yet black men run a tragically greater risk than others of having the encounter turn deadly.Do black men “run a tragically greater risk than others of having [traffic stops] turn deadly?” We can’t exactly tell you that, although it’s certainly possible.
How much more risk? As I wrote in a column last year, no one really knows. Incredibly, there are no authoritative, comprehensive statistics on police killings nationwide—not even in the aggregate, let alone broken down by race.
But it doesn't take data analysis to realize that when police treat communities like occupied territory—and routinely automatically classify black men as suspects—the opportunity for tragedy grows exponentially.
Walter Scott's broken taillight was an excuse, not an offense. Slager knew that Scott had to be guilty of something. It was just a matter of finding out what that black man's crime might be.
On some basis which goes unexplained, Robinson feels he can reach that judgment. In service to this belief, he composed a rather peculiar passage. First, he asserted that black men do run a tragically greater risk. After that, he seemed to say that he doesn’t exactly know.
“Incredibly, there are no authoritative, comprehensive statistics on police killings nationwide,” Robinson wrote, “not even in the aggregate, let alone broken down by race.” That didn’t stop him from selling the story he wants you to hear, something he’s done in the past.
Here’s what we think you should notice:
In the absence of comprehensive statistics, people like Robinson are going to sell you dramatic examples, some of them perfected. He did the same freaking thing in 1999 when his guild was working so hard to tell you that Candidate Gore was a liar.
Now, he has another story he is eager to peddle. He doesn’t quite know if his story is true, or to what extent, but he’s still eager to sell it.
According to that imperfect CDC statistic, three times as many white people get shot by police. Two summers ago, one of those people was Geer.
That said, the example didn’t fit the narrative which makes us liberals feel morally glad. For that reason, it got disappeared, along with quite a few others.
The press corps tells you the stories they like. They’ve engaged in this non-journalistic conduct for many years.
In this case, our limbic brains tell us liberals to buy. People are dead all over the world because we’ve reacted this way in the past.
This afternoon: Two “journalistic” attempts to examine the relevant data