Laura Morris (Reaction 3, section 2): Media Influence on Public Judgements

Laura Morris

Community Power

Reaction Paper 3


Any person who has access to the media, be it via Facebook, Twitter, television, or the radio, has heard about the recent uprisings and riots throughout the United States sparked by instances of police brutality. We’ve all heard the names of those killed, seen their faces, and listened to their stories as they have been blasted across social media for the world to see and interpret however they wish. As a general rule of thumb, we are cautioned to take care in believing everything we see on social media or the news. There is often a great deal of bias associated with stories which are presented to us and it takes a sharp and knowing audience to differentiate between what should be taken with a grain of salt and what should be taken at face value. For the most part, the general public does an adequate job of accessing facts and drawing inferences; however, in the case of police brutality the word of the media is often taken as gold. It has been my understanding that the media often portrays one perspective, that of the victim, when airing stories involving instances of violence by police officers. Any perspectives that are shared from the point of view of police are often devalued and portrayed as unsustainable. However, it is my argument that the general public should take in to account both sides of the story and refrain from lumping together all members of the nation-wide police forces as one unit with the same beliefs and values.

The first thing I will say is that I am by no means excusing the killing of innocent people, nor am I trying to argue that police officers should not be subject to general laws and consequences. In fact, the very individuals who are trained to enforce rules and regulations should probably be held accountable to even higher standards than the general public. However, I am arguing that solely listening to media portrayals of violence by police is not the best way to ensure you have heard all sides of the story.

We have heard numerous stories of young, black youth being killed by white law enforcement. From Freddie Gray to Michael Brown we hear the same story about how unarmed, black youth are mauled by police officers because of their race. While I do not discount that these young men and women were killed for little to no reason, I do wonder where I can find media coverage of white youth being killed by law enforcement for very similar and unnecessary reasons. My fear is that because the media does not broadcast stories of police brutality towards white individuals with the same emphasis as those involving black youth that the general public may assume that it does not take place. This is where knowing the facts and taking the media with a grain of salt become great skills. Where was the media coverage when 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed by police during a drug investigation this past July? Where was the media when Dillon Taylor, a 20-year-old white male, was shot and killed by a black police officer? Because our society has become so reliant on the media to display the facts, the lack of media coverage following these events served to suppress public knowledge. Many shootings involving white persons are either only touched on briefly or omitted completely by most national news sources. Without all of the facts and views from multiple sides of a story to make inferences, the general public must be self-sufficient and do their own research; however, as a member of today’s society, I have a hunch that it would be overoptimistic to assume that would actually happen.

I am fully aware that news stations and social media outlets are businesses and need to show stories which ‘sell’ and make for ‘good television’, and for this I do not fault them. I do, however, fault them for not giving the public the opportunity to make their own judgments. For example, when displaying instances of police brutality it is rare that the public get to hear sides of the story from those who are in support of the local police force or the opinions of those who are not utterly outraged by the violence. In addition, it is a rare occurrence that viewers get to hear from police officers who are upset by the actions of their fellow service members and wish to assure the public that not all members of a police force are the same. Should the public be exposed to the views of more law enforcement personnel it may be easier for them to draw their own conclusions about police officers as not only a general unit, but also as individual people. The reality of the matter is that police officers must enter the workforce each and every day with a clear mind in order to effectively serve, protect, and do their jobs; however, I would imagine this would be almost impossible to do should you have to start every day thinking that the majority of the general public has a genuine hatred and disrespect for police officers. I understand that it can be difficult to continue to trust law enforcement when you are also afraid that you may be hurt or killed by them. However, if the media does not give the public the opportunity to make that decision for themselves, given information from both law enforcement and victims, then we will continue to be trapped in a cycle of never ending mistrust and hatred from which we cannot escape.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  ― Marie Curie

My ultimate hope is that we may all live in a society where we do not fear those who protect us. I also hope that those who protect us do not have to do so in fear of those they protect. If we all take the time to understand and make judgments based on facts we can move closer to a world of understanding and respect rather than fear. I encourage you take the media with a grain of salt. Listen carefully. And always remember that there are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth.


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