Tuesday, May 5, 2015

So What Happened in Baltimore Yesterday?

We still don't know.

Witnesses reported they saw a black man running from police near the corner of Pennsylvania and W. North Avenue. They saw -- and one photographed -- the policeman raise is sidearm toward the running man; they heard what sounded like a gunshot and saw the running man fall.

It's hard to interpret what they say they saw as anything other than that a running Negro was shot in the back by a police officer in front of numerous witnesses at the site of ongoing community demonstrations and celebrations since the death of Freddie Gray.

Police said "No." No one was shot, the running Negro dropped a gun that discharged, he wasn't injured, but he was taken to the hospital as a precaution, and he was under arrest for having a weapon.

Initial reports on the internet and in the media focused on two things: what the eyewitnesses said they saw and heard and what the local FOX affiliate reported -- which was what the witnesses saw and heard.

After the police gained control of the scene by violently pushing back the crowd that gathered immediately, and the man was taken by ambulance to the hospital, the police issued a statement that the man (who has been tentatively identified as Robert "Meech" Tucker) was in custody in the hospital but was not injured. Witnesses continued to insist that Tucker was shot, no matter what the police said.

FOX news was widely blamed for spreading a false story, as if somehow it was the intention of the FOX reporter to incite further unrest among the residents of the Penn North area where Freddie Gray had been apprehended.

But the story literally came from those on the street who witnessed what happened. It's not entirely clear that the FOX reporter actually saw the incident, though apparently he said he did. But dozens of others saw it and reported what they saw almost exactly the way the FOX reporter did, and those on the street who saw what happened had little or no access to the FOX report, so they were not repeating what FOX had reported. They were telling the story as they witnessed it.

DeRay McKesson was passing on those witness reports as he received them. I thought he was actually on the scene, but apparently he wasn't. He did not disclose his location -- which may become an interesting tidbit in due time.

Most of the media covering Baltimore initially reported the incident as a police officer shooting a fleeing black man -- which is what witnesses said they saw. But once the police statement denying any such thing happened came out, the media reported that as fact when there was no independent verification at all that the police statement was true.

As far as I can tell, there still isn't any independent verification of police statements of what happened, but those statements are now almost universally cited as if they were "fact".

The problem here is that the Baltimore Police Department has issued numerous lies upon lies during the period since Freddie Gray's death, lies that have included the facts surrounding Freddie Gray's arrest and death, lies about "The Purge" and high schoolers planning to riot, lies about gangs engaged in truces in order to kill police, lies about fires set by "criminals" -- which in fact were caused by police grenades. On and on. There has been a tissue of lies and fabrications coming out of the Baltimore Police Department, so many and so often that the statements from the department lack any credibility.

They are reasonably assumed to be lies on their face.

Yet the media as a whole accepts and reports their statements as if they were fact, and frequently does not follow up. The media as a whole is so bound to "official statements" they are unable to treat them skeptically.

Others have blamed faulty eyewitness accounts for the erroneous initial reports of what happened yesterday, but that begs the question: how do these critics know -- for certain -- what happened? Have they independently verified the facts?

We -- the general public -- still don't know. So far as I know, there has been no independent verification that the man who was seen running and falling was uninjured. There are eyewitness accounts and there are police statements. Police statements cannot be relied on as "fact" because of so many lies they've told and the damage those lies have caused since the death of Freddie Gray (leaving aside their lies before that). The eyewitness accounts may be in error, but over time, they tend to be truthful or at least more truthful than the "official statements" of police departments.

Skepticism is a virtue, but in situations like this, it can be very difficult to achieve and apply, especially when the statements of authority are in conflict with accounts of witnesses. Many people want to unquestioningly accept the "official story," while other want just as unquestioningly to denounce and reject it.

And as in so many other situations, the police have brought this on themselves.

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