All Lives are Equal, but some lives are more equal than others, at least in terms of media coverage. There’s been plenty of controversy and polemic about whether the media exaggerates Black deaths at the hands of police, most of it unproductive. But a glance at the other side of the coin reveals that when it comes to police deaths, the media amost certainly contributes to the perceptions of a constant violent clash between police and African Americans, and it’s hard to see how they don’t, in so doing, contribute to the actual violence between police and the African American community.
What do I mean? On August 24th, state trooper Steven Vincent was shot to death (and taunted as he died) in Louisiana. The killing certainly made more headlines than a typical homicide in an almost uniquely violent state – 26,500 hits on Google news are returned for “Steven Vincent”.
Four days later, deputy Darren Goforth was killed in Texas, shot in the back while filling his patrol car. Unlike Steven Vincent and most other police killed in the US, Goforth was killed by a Black man. A Googe news search for “Darren Goforth” returns 333,000 hits, and growing – many blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for his death.
Cops’ lives matter – most people would agree with that statement. But to blame the killing of police on a movement trying to highlight police violence against African Americans is not only irresponsible, it’s logically incoherent. The majority of cop killers are not Black – in fact, compared to homicide victims as a group, police murder victims are relatively less likely to be killed by Black people (despite the fact that police are far more likely to be killed in the South than other regions). But it’s very easy to be misled into thinking the opposite, for a couple of reasons. First, homicides involving police (going either direction) are far more likely to be cross racial than other homicides: the vast majority of homicide victims in the US are killed by people of their own race, so shootings involving police have a racial element that draws attention. That’s a fact with a complex history involving discrimination and mistrust going back decades (centuries, really), which has created a situation where most police a white but a plurality of homicide victims and perpetrators are Black. This fact alone makes it hard to counter the current narrative of a ‘war on cops’ perpetrated by Black men. However, when domestic terrorists like Dylann Roof are citing “black on White” crime as the primary motivation for their hatred, the fact that the media have chosen to consistently overrepresent the racial factors involved in violence against police is the peak of journalistic negligence.