Part of our failing war against racism in this nation lies with those in the media who deliberately insist on emphasizing differences in skin color.
Take, for example, the slaying of Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C., described in news reports as “the black man who was shot to death by a white North Charleston police officer.”
The racial identities are undeniably true. But to spell out the racial differences in the first paragraph of a news report is not responsible reporting if racial prejudice on the part of the shooter — police officer Michael Slager — is not somehow substantiated later in the report. Thus far, nothing has been reported about Slager’s alleged racial prejudices or about any other details of his personal background.
Subsequent to the shooting, Slager was fired from his cop job and charged with murder after a witness posted a video online showing Slager firing eight shots and fatally hitting Scott as the latter tried to flee the scene. Apparently Slager had been trying to arrest Scott when they started to wrestle over Scott’s handgun.
As reported by the media, “the case prompted outrage across the country as the latest instance of an unarmed black man being killed by a white officer.” Such reporting only serves to fan the flames of racial bias and race-rooted violence on our streets.
It’s enough to show photos of the two men involved without pounding away at their skin color. The meat of the story is that an armed police officer opened fire on an unarmed suspect as the suspect tried to flee. That puts the focus rightfully on the appearance of an unjustified felony homicide on the part of the police officer.
Moreover, press reports in the wake of the fatal shooting painted a fairly complete picture of Scott, described as a warehouse forklift operator who owed more than $18,000 in child support and court fees. He was further described as lighthearted and gentle, a laid-back, fun-loving man who took his girlfriend dancing on weekends, entertained family and friends with backyard cookouts and hosted regular domino games the way other men entertain friends with poker nights.
Co-worker Anthony Adkinson said they had barely met when Scott gave him $100 to pay attorney’s fees he owed. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about paying it back’,” Adkinson recalled.
But nowhere in the news reports has there been any similar description of Slager – good, bad or ugly. So, we are left to conclude on our own from what has been reported that he is a violent racist. The media’s sin of omission compromises the fairness in reporting that we expect. And it paints a distorted picture that easily could prompt reactionary individuals to engage in violence.