Balanced Media Coverage for Law Enforcement

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Balanced Media Coverage for Law Enforcement

Kai Vest, Writer

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Police officers’ actions are often a hot topic for media coverage, and now, more than ever, the media needs to provide balanced coverage of law enforcement’s role in the community. Sometimes the media does a good job, like honoring the life of Birmingham police officer Wytasha Carter, after he was killed on the job this week. Other times, the media might report a potentially controversial incident before having all the details or overexpose the wrongful actions of certain officers, which makes it seem like there are more bad officers than there actually are. There are approximately 744,000 police officers in the United States, and most of those officers are serving their community and saving lives.

The media sometimes reports and vilifies cases of officers shooting an armed person and being blamed for defending themselves. The shooting of Harith Augustus is an example of this. Footage of the scene shows that during the approach of police, Augustus resists and reaches for his weapon and officers pull out their service pistols. The New York Times stated, “Many people recorded tense confrontations between residents and officers. Some were heard disputing the Police Department’s version of events.” Reporters who didn’t have all the details of the situation decided to fill in the gaps with their own information to make it seem as if the armed man wasn’t a threat to officers. A reporter on the scene posted these videos after the incident on Twitter (be warned, graphic language is used). The initial reporting exaggerated how poorly Augustus was treated by officers – that Augustus was shoved to the ground, although even Augustus can’t remember if he even touched the ground. 

Anthony Hatcher of the Huffington Post wrote, “[P]olice [officers], along with firefighters, ran into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 as panicked workers ran out, cops were portrayed as our heroes. When incidents of police abuse surface, they are justifiably condemned.” In the time since, some officers have done some unspeakable things, such as the shooting of the teenager Jordan Edwards. The officer, Roy Oliver, was charged with murder and currently faces life in prison. When a story like this pops up, it spreads like wildfire for clicks and views. It’s very important that we do not blame all police officers for the horrific actions of a select few, tainting the reputation of public servants who protect and serve our communities. Just as not all officers are corrupt, neither are all media outlets. 

Statistics on Pew Research Center’s website showed that roughly 81% of officers believe they are treated poorly by the media. Certain officers are even scared for the safety of their families. This may cause them to second-guess doing the right thing when it comes down to it. This fear has even cost lives, such as in the case of the killing of officer Sgt. Michael Chesna. He hesitated to draw his weapon and lost his life.  

Not all police officers are evil, gun-toting maniacs, and they should not be portrayed as such. As a person who wishes to go into the field of law enforcement, I hope to do more good than harm as every officer should. Much of the media is driven by views and profit. We are in desperate need of stories showing all sides of an issue–the bad and the good.

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