Saturday, October 25, 2014

Standard Model Police Shooting Story -- Example #1

Boy, these stories are so standardized, you could write them in your sleep.

[#1643 "Killed by Police" since May 1, 2013]

A New Bedford, MA, man named Luis Roman was shot and killed by Dartmouth police Thursday night after they claimed he armed himself with two guns and opened fire at them when they approached his car.

Could be, who knows?

The issue here is not so much the incident itself -- because we don't know what really happened -- but the reporting of it in the Boston Globe. To wit:

The Globe characterizes Roman right off the bat by claiming in the first sentence that Roman (allegedly) swore he was not going back to jail.

Then in paragraph after paragraph, Roman is further characterized as a violent repeat offender, even though the charges against him were either dismissed or were "continued without a finding" -- all of them. Nevertheless, the Globe's story of this incident presents Roman as a desperado, intent on killing his girlfriend and the police who were called to her apartment when she reported Roman had broken into it.

As happens in almost all mainstream media reports of police involved killings, police statements about the incident are reported as fact, undeniable and undisputable, unless and until significant public push-back occurs, at which time, "there is a debate."  Or even better, "a conversation." The victim is routinely maligned -- typically as a habitual criminal, a drug user, a child sex offender, or some such -- to make clear that, whether or not the victim was armed and/or dangerous, the victim deserved to die.

In this particular case, the victim's long criminal record (despite the fact that there were no convictions) is presented first. His arrogant mug-shot is displayed. The outstanding FTA warrant from 2012 is mentioned.

He is presented as a burglar on the night of his death. He is alleged to have broken into his former girlfriend's apartment and damaged her television and computer. She was the mother of his child and she had taken out a restraining order on him in 2010 alleging that he had attacked and threatened her.

He left the apartment before police arrived to investigate. Whether anyone was in the apartment when Roman allegedly broke in is unclear. He allegedly called the father of his former girlfriend to find out if the police were there, and told that they were, he said (according to police statements) that “he was coming back to the apartment and that he had his gun out, ammunition, and said he wasn’t going back to jail.”

He arrived, the police told him to get out of his car, he started to, then got back in, "brandished" one of two guns and fired two shots at police as they approached the car. An officer fired back. The man was transported to the hospital where, after CPR, the man was pronounced dead. Officer is now on routine paid leave, investigation is continuing. The end.

Not quite, however, because the story goes on to detail the assertions made by his former girlfriend in her restraining order application. Then there is a long section of the report on other allegations against him, as well as the statement that "Roman was well-known to the police." But interestingly:
A long list of charges dating back to 2007 and including assault, assault and battery, breaking and entering, and more drug charges, were all brought against Roman and ultimately dismissed, according to court documents.
All of this detail serves the purpose of impugning Roman and making the case that he deserved to die, as -- according to the standards of the media -- all perps who are killed by police must. Whether Roman actually fired at police officers approaching his car is -- I would say -- an open question. He may have. He may not have, but we should (by now) be skeptical of police statements. Firing, brandishing, reaching... all of these actions and more are routinely used to justify police killings, but without solid corroboration, we can't be sure that any such thing actually happened.

But what we can always be sure of is that the reports appearing in the media regarding the incident will always feature and focus on the victim's alleged "badness."


This story is one of the purest of its kind.

NOTE: I'll have some things to say about the killing of two deputies in California yesterday when I get a chance later. For now, though, I'll just say that I wouldn't have known about it unless a friend emailed me with a sideways reference... had to look it up.

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