Reporters covering the unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina have been working overtime to justify the violent riots and shoehorn the police shooting into a national narrative about racial injustice.
And even as some reporters on the scene flee the city — after a night of deliberate attacks on media–the press can’t stop itself from preening shrilly about “a grim snapshot of America’s continuing crisis in black and blue” (as the New York Times put it). This despite mounting evidence that this particular police shooting hardly fits the mold of racist white cops killing unarmed black men
The New York Times‘s Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder were clearly feeling verbose as they penned their florid coverage of Charlotte’s police killing– in which Keith Scott was shot by black Charlotte police officer Brentley Vinson. While describing the scene on the ground, they waxed poetic:
“The gunshot victim lay motionless on the ground, his eyes open, as people surrounded him and blood pooled among their feet. He was taken into the nearby Omni Hotel, and a series of confrontations played out afterward as the police kept people from entering,” they wrote.
But information about the incident that sparked the shooting was buried several paragraphs down. The Charlotte police’s press conference (led by its black police chief) was given a mere two sentences. Brentley Vinson was never mentioned by name, and his race noted only in passing. Long before they discussed the specifics of the case, Fausset and Blinder were trying to line up Charlotte’s story with stories in Columbus, Ohio and in Oklahoma.
“And then it was Charlotte, where Mr. Scott, 43, black like the other two, was shot by a police officer in a parking space marked “Visitor” outside an unremarkable apartment complex. On Wednesday that parking space was both a shooting site and a shrine, and Charlotte was a city on edge.”
A special hats off to USA Today, which leads with a touching portrait of Scott:
“Keith Lamont Scott was well-known in the neighborhood, a fixture in the after-school hours who sat in his truck, passing time reading while waiting for his son to step off the bus, according to local residents.”
Note USA Today‘s emphasis on Scott’s alleged reading-in-the-car habit, as his supporters claim he was holding a book, not a gun, when police shot him (police insist he had a gun which was recovered at the scene). The newspaper chain’s Tonya Maxwell (of the Gannett-owned Asheville Citizen-Times) ends her piece by quoting at length a random guy named Calvin Bennett. His tone is “sure”, his words “direct”. He speaks “quietly”:
“You have a child coming off the bus and goes to meet daddy, but doesn’t know what to do because daddy’s dead,” Bennett said. “Think about that image for a minute. America should be outraged.”
“We get killed in church. We get killed when we comply. We get killed when we hold our hands up. We get killed when we wait for our children. What more can we do?” said Bennett, his tone sure and his words direct.
Asked if he is an activist, Bennett’s tone softened. He is not. He keeps up with the shootings of black people and has gotten an education he wish he did not need.
“The black community has this conversation every day,” he said, quietly. “We have this same conversation over and over and over.”
Slate‘s Leon Neyfakh didn’t even make it to the body of his story before inserting incendiary language, and like the New York Times, he also relied on flowery language to set the scene. A “convulsing” crowd was simply “expressing anger;” a “tumult” moved into a nearby Wal-Mart (he never mentions that they looted it).
Reporters Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Derek Hawkins and Katie Mettler at the Washington Post wrote eloquently about “blame, rumor and blood” as protests surged. They’re creative in describing protesters’ wounds, and the quick work of medics saving the innocent from rubber bullets. But they were short on details of exactly what happened in Charlotte to cause the “tense” protests, preferring only to refer to the Charlotte shooting as part of a larger trend and identical to other stories.
“The violence in Charlotte came less than a week after disputed police shooting of a black man in Tulsa — amplifying debates over policing and race that have been thrust open before in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.”
In all, these reporters seem to view Charlotte as a playing ground to win a Pulitzer Prize, the scene of a new civil rights movement, playing out like a maudlin Hollywood film before their eyes. And they are the people who will set the scene for the history books, even if they aren’t quite covering the story.
They also describe Charlotte as a dystopic backdrop for violence and revolution. In all these accounts, life is brutal, and daily confrontation is routine. But just a few short years ago, in the same place riots are now ripping through the downtown, the Democrats held their national convention. The Democratic National Committee picked Charlotte, it said, because it was “vibrant and diverse,” and because it was “reaching for tomorrow.”
Just two years ago in the New York Times, Charlotte was a functioning, innovative city. Thursday morning, it’s a hellhole of racial disunity. And it’s all in how the New York Times spins it.