Part 2—No others seem to matter: We'll have to admit it. At least to us, it seemed like a slightly odd headline.
It appeared on Sunday, March 18, in the Washington Post's Outlook section. It stretched across the top of Outlook's page 3.
We thought the headline was slightly odd. Slightly oddly, the headline said this:
Police are still killing black people. Why don't we notice?In fairness, that headline begins with an accurate statement. The full stack of the Post's headlines that day said this:
Police are still killing black people. Why don't we notice?Today, online, the pair of headlines are slightly different. So you can perform your usual full meditation, we present those headlines here:
The Post's Wesley Lowery says activists, reporters and the zeitgeist have moved on
Police are still killing black people. Why isn’t it news anymore?As fate would have it, Stephon Clark was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers on the evening of March 18, mere hours after that hard-copy headline appeared. And Clark's death has been treated as news, for an array of reasons.
The activism never stopped. But the attention to it vanished.
Having said that, let us also say this. That morning, we thought that headline in the Washington Post was perhaps slightly odd, but also perhaps instructive. Thoughtfully, we'll explain why.
In our view, the headline basically captured the point of Wes Lowery's 1449-word essay. Lowery never exactly said that only one type of decedent need apply in the matter of police shootings. But the editor who penned that headline basically captured his drift.
In the course of his essay, Lowery named sixteen people who had famously or semi-famously been the victims of some sort of alleged or actual police misconduct. But only one of these sixteen names was borne by one of The Others:
Cited in Lowery's essay:Need the others even apply? Only one of their number was cited this day. We'll guess that you can puzzle out which of those names it is.
Johnnie Jermaine Rush
Henry Louis Gates
Essentially, Lowery's essay asked a question, just as that headline implied. His essay asked why black victims of real or apparent police misconduct weren't getting a lot of press coverage any more.
The headline made it sound like Lowery was only speaking about police killings. That wasn't precisely the case, but we'd say it was close enough for mainstream press corps work.
"Police are still killing black people. Why isn’t it news anymore?" In principle, that's a perfectly sensible question, based upon a perfectly accurate statement of fact.
A person could perhaps and possibly say that the headline may be a bit "loaded." But the headline stated an accurate fact and, in theory at least, there are no invalid questions.
So how about it? Why wasn't it news any more when police kill black people? In his discussion, Lowery placed a lot of blame on the mountains of attention being paid to the conduct of Donald J. Trump.
But as the headline indicated, his emphasis— and, apparently, his interest—clearly lay on the killing of "black people," full stop, as seen in this passage:
LOWERY (3/18/18): [U]nlike President Barack Obama, Trump isn't interested in police reform...Explicitly, we're discussing "race and policing." Beyond that, you'll note the possible oddness of that last paragraph, perhaps as it was edited. To wit:
And unlike Obama, who was immediately and persistently asked to weigh in on issues of race and policing—from Henry Louis Gates's arrest to Trayvon Martin's death to the Ferguson protests—Trump faced no such questioning when police in Texas shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards last April or when a video of an Arizona officer fatally shooting unarmed Daniel Shaver was released last year.
Among other complicating factors is that, while police shootings have continued, the number of unarmed people being killed has dipped and therefore so has the number of videos of such shootings that galvanize the public. In 2015, 36 unarmed black men were fatally shot by police; footage of the armed yet compliant Castile, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and Walter Scott dying from their wounds prompted massive protests. In 2017, the figure was 19. Of the 33 black people fatally shot by police so far in 2018, only two incidents are known to have been caught on a body camera. Some policing experts say officers have become more cautious.
As least as the paragraph was edited, Lowery starts by talking about "unarmed people being killed." At that point, there seemed to be no demographic requirement for inclusion in the circle of concern.
Instantly, though, that changed. From the number of unarmed people being killed, we move directly to the numbers of "unarmed black men" being killed in 2016 and 2017. Among the others who need not apply, he even excluded black women!
(At least as the passage appeared. And yes, there have been some.)
It was perhaps from that chunk of text that some editor get the impression that Lowery was concerned about the killing of people who are socially defined as black, full stop, with there being no apparent need for anyone else to apply. For our money, the headline did capture the gist of the piece—and the headline struck us as perhaps somewhat regrettable and as perhaps slightly odd.
Of one thing you can be sure; the Washington Post's Wes Lowery is a good, decent person. We've never met him in our lives, but we're totally and completely sure of that fact.
We also think that headline, and the essay beneath it, may lead us in two directions:
First, it helps explain our interest in the survey we imagined yesterday. How many people might believe that today's police officer is shooting and killing black people only, and nobody else?
We'd be curious to see an approximate answer. In fairness, if some people have formed that impression, it isn't because they haven't been getting plenty of help.
Second, it seems to us that Lowery's essay may have a good and decent person tilting toward a type of moral mistake. We think of this glorious passage from Yevtushenko's poem, People. Granted, he was a Russkie:
In any man [sic] who dies there dies with him"Who we knew as faulty, the earth's creatures," Yevtushenko says as he continues.
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.
There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery
Whose fate is to survive.
But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.
When a person dies, "what has gone is not nothing?" Yevtushenko didn't add the limiting phrase, "depending on the demographics," although, anthropologically speaking, many people all over the world have always been so inclined.
How many people think that only "black" people are being shot and killed by today's out-of-control police officer, who hasn't kept up with the statistics about today's improved teens?
We're curious about the answer to that. It seems to us that, much as once was said at Woodstock, there's some bad information and faulty suggestions possibly going around.
Tomorrow: Clinton promotes a (slightly peculiar?) movement