Whose deaths turn up on TV?: Over the weekend, the claim flitted by, two or three separate times, as we flipped through C-Span's programs.
It sounded like it couldn't be true. In the end, we decided to check.
The claim had been made by Rafael Mangual, Deputy Director for Policy Research/Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. As part of a much longer presentation, this was his factual claim, though it seemed a bit hard to believe:
MANGUAL (6/18/20): In 1971, the NYPD fired their weapons more than 800 times. They wounded more than 220 people and killed almost a hundred. By 2016, those numbers were down to 72, twenty-something and nine, respectively.To watch the whole C-Span program, click here.
Meanwhile, say what? In 1971, police officers in New York City shot and killed "almost a hundred" people?
The statement seemed hard to believe. We ourselves were in and out of Gotham in those days. Our sister and her husband were living in Manhattan at the time, on their way to a stay in Bed-Stuy.
In 1974, we even stood backstage at the Winter Garden as we watched Zero Mostel perform Ulysses in Nighttown! If memory serves, it was one of Mostel's greatest thrills!
We'd been in and out of New York in those days. We didn't recall all that gunfire, or any blowback from same.
In fairness, this had been the general era of Fort Apache, The Bronx. It was also the decade of Manhattan, a film in which no one got shot by police, not even the Woody Allen character, who we now understand to have been richly deserving.
That said, did Gotham police shoot and kill almost one hundred people in 1971? Skillfully, we started to google. Soon, we were reading this report from WNYC, the Gotham NPR outlet:
HENNELLY (11/22/11): The number of civilians shot and killed by New York City police officers has fallen to a record low.As it turned out, Mangual's numbers were solid! In 2015, PolitiFact reported that 1971 had been "a particularly brutal year for both shootings of cops (47 injured, 12 killed) as well as the number of people shot and killed by police (221 injured, 93 people killed)."
In its annual firearm discharge report, the NYPD said officers killed eight people in 2010—compared to 12 in 2009 and 93 in 1971, when the record keeping began.
The NYPD shot and wounded 16 civilians last year.
The dramatic reduction in civilian police shooting casualties parallels an equally significant decline in NYPD officers fatally shot in the line of duty. In 1971 a dozen officers were killed, whereas for the last three years no officers were. Also in 1971, 47 officers were wounded, compared to only two last year.
The official data are here. As always, we certainly can, and we surely will, believe whatever we want.
So it went in the street-fighting days of 1971. One year earlier, as chaos reigned, the Weatherman accidentally detonated one of their home-made bombs, blowing up their Greenwich Village townhouse. So it went in those long-ago years.
Today, things are perhaps perceived to be worse. Consider:
Yesterday, the New York Times published the type of first-person account it just can't seem to quit. Thanks to the highlighted claims at the start of the profile, the ridiculous paper had finally found a Republican hopeful to love:
PETERS AND GRAY (7/9/20): John James still feels the sting from the harrowing encounters and indignities he has experienced as a young Black man crossing paths with the police.Will those stories help white Americans better understand (important) issues of racial justice? Even as we agree to assume that those stories are true, we have no way of answering that question.
He recently recalled the time he was with the woman who is now his wife at an upscale mall in suburban Detroit and two officers approached them in their car, guns drawn. Had his wife, who is white, not been there to de-escalate the situation, he said, “I don’t know what would have happened.”
A few years later, he was pulled over with one of their sons in the back seat. At the sight of the flashing blue and red lights, he asked himself if this was the day his child “sees his daddy bleed out in the street.” Mr. James, a West Point graduate and Apache helicopter pilot who once flew combat missions in Iraq, came to a chilling conclusion: He could be killed during a traffic stop in the suburbs just as easily as he could have been killed at war.
These are the kinds of stories that Mr. James, a Republican candidate for Senate in Michigan, said he hoped would help white Americans better understand the issues of racial justice now at the forefront of an election unlike any in his lifetime.
We do note this:
The Times didn't attempt to explain why James was pulled over in his car on that one occasion. (Through some remarkable fluke, the future candidate didn't bleed out in the street in front of his son that night.)
Also, why had officers approached his car in suburban Detroit that time, guns drawn? The Times didn't go into that either. As readers, we were allowed to flesh out these stories through the work product of our own minds.
For the record, Candidate James sounds like an impressive person. It sounds like he's lived an impressive life.
(Even more so, his impressive father. At present, James runs "a shipping business that is part of the company his father started after moving to Michigan from segregated Mississippi in the 1960s." We're always amazed by people who have what it takes to do things like that.)
Candidate James is an impressive person. In 2018, he came surprisingly close to winning his previous Senate race.
That said, was his assessment correct?
Granted, it's the type of assessment the New York Times currently seems to love. But is it correct to say that Candidate James "could be killed during a traffic stop in the suburbs just as easily as he could have been killed at war?"
We're prepared to suggest that that assessment may not make perfect sense, even though it's a type of assessment the New York Times currently loves to publish.
In fairness, such assessments are thrilling to read of a weekend out in the Hamptons, and they fuel revolutionary fervor. On the downside, people may start believing such assessments, even passing them on to their kids.
Before long, substantial people may write essays for Slate in which they say their 7-year-old son was "terrified" by the things they recently told him. More specifically, they may say their 7-year-old son is terrified by what he's been told and wants to leave the United States.
Out in the Hamptons, that's a good read! But in the mind of a 7-year-old child, that is a tale of true terror—and, perhaps, an unfortunate tale of a possible misapprehension.
Could Candidate James "be killed during a traffic stop in the suburbs just as easily as he could have been killed at war?"
We're prepared to suggest a possibility which won't likely show up in the Times. We're prepare to suggest the possibility that that's a misguided assessment.
To explain why we're prepared to do that, we'll now mention a second person we've seen on TV in the past few weeks. We refer to Wilfred Reilly, an assistant professor of political science at Kentucky State University, an historically black college in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Reilly is the kind of person you're allowed to see on the Fox News Channel but not on CNN or MSNBC. We've seen him briefly on two Fox programs in something like the past month.
As Fox guests go, we'd say that Reilly is strongly non-partisan. On the other hand, he's sometimes a bit less precise with his statistical summaries than we'd like cable guests to be.
That said, his current data address an interesting question. Whose deaths will you see on cable TV, or in the New York Times?
More specifically, whose shooting deaths at the hands of police will you hear about on TV or read about in the Times? In a brief recent appearance with Laura Ingraham, the gentleman said this:
REILLY (7/6/20): In my most recent book, Taboo, I look at a lot of these cultural questions in American society. And I mean, one of the things I find, that other researchers have found many times before, is that the large, 75-80 percent majority of those killed by police in a typical year, for example, are Caucasian or Hispanic individuals, and those cases receive less than 20 percent of the media coverage of police violence.To watch that brief appearance, click here, move ahead to 23:30.
There are other ways to sift those numbers about who gets shot and killed. We don't know where the statistic about media coverage comes from. For our money, Reilly isn't always a total stickler for perfect statistical accuracy.
That said, Reilly is speaking to a blindingly obvious state of affairs—a state of affairs you'll only hear discussed on Fox. In Taboo: Ten Facts You Can't Talk About, he discusses this same topic—the disparate coverage, within major media, of black and white shooting deaths.
When black shooting deaths are extensively covered and white shooting deaths may not be covered at all, misperceptions may arise. We think of the absurd presentation John Yang recently slept through on the PBS NewsHour:
YANG (6/16/20): Louisville has banned—in reaction to this, banned no-knock warrants. They called it Breonna's Law. How effective do you think that will be?Barnard researcher Andrea Ritchie was Yang's only guest. When she named people other than the late Breonna Taylor who had died during "no-knock" raids, she named five black women, and she named nobody else.
RITCHIE: I think it's good that we're stepping back to look at how those police officers came to be at her door and looking to interrupt one of the mechanisms that has resulted in her death and also in the death of—I can name five other black women killed by no-knock warrants, Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnston, Alberta Spruill, Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
So, there's many—this is not the first time. And so I think that stopping no-knock warrants is important, and that we need to recognize that increasing the time that folks have to respond to 15 or 30 seconds or a minute, imagine someone backing on your door in the middle of the night. That's not enough time to understand what's going on either.
So, we need to maybe step further back and ask ourselves, why are people showing up at—police officers, armed police officers, showing up on people's doors to serve no-knock or short-knock warrants?
And I think then we need to look at the war on drugs, which is where those warrants came from and what brought those officers to Breonna's door that night. And we need to rethink our approach to that in a way that we are taking an approach to saving lives not, taking them, in this way, as Breonna Taylor's was taken.
Almost surely, such presentations will create false impressions. Yang and Judy Woodruff should have been disciplined, the very next day, for sleepwalking though that presentation on PBS that night.
Especially with respect to life-and-death matters, selective presentation may lead to gross misimpressions. Before too long, we have Hopkins professors who won't leave their homes, and we have terrified 7-year-olds who want to leave the country.
You can hear about this topic on Fox. CNN's angriest dog in the world is unlikely to speak to this issue.
Here within our failing society, this is the way our upper-end "discussions" now work. On the upper levels of the press, we've been this dumb, and this destructive, for an extremely long time.
We were surprised by what we learned from the Manhattan Institute researcher. We weren't surprised by what Reilly said, but we think he's discussing a topic which ought to be discussed a lot more.
That said, the things that people are told on Fox aren't heard by us Over Here. On our own cable channels, we're handed our own tribal tales, nothing else.
On the upper ends of our corporate press corps, this is largely the way "discussion" had worked for decades before Donald J. Trump ever descended that staircase.
By light-years, Trump is the most disordered high-level player yet. But these people, all through the upper-end press corps, were thoroughly Trumpist before he arrived on the scene.
How many people are shot and killed by police officers? Roughly a thousand people per year!
Which deaths get covered, which get disappeared? We've seen Reilly address that question twice, but it's all taking place Over There. This is no way for discussion to work, but it's how we got Trump in the first place.