Op-Ed: Is media coverage of police brutality useful?

Amanda Fournier, Sophomore

Following the shocking and disheartening death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, I have seen a resurgence of news coverage on black men and women killed in America by police officers. Breonna Taylor — an innocent black woman who was killed March 13, 2020 during a no-knock warrant — started to see some signs of justice two months after her death, around the time the video of Floyd’s death was released. People, including myself, started to take over social media with #BlackLivesMatter and brought to the surface the innocent men and women who were murdered by police.

But does this media coverage do anything?

To me? No. In my opinion, whether or not we had media coverage wouldn’t change the minds of those who believe that police are just following the rules of their jobs, and that institutional racism doesn’t exist.

According to The Washington Post, which has been logging every death from police brutality since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, “984 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year.” This number was updated on November 25th, 2020, and allows us to see that the deaths have not decreased since the death of Floyd, but the coverage of deaths has gone up. From 2015 to 2020, the rate of killings by police annually continues to remain steady. This statistic covers both men and women from every race, but the rate of black people being killed is about 3 times more likely than white people. Even as the coverage of police brutality went up, the deaths did not decrease because the police weren’t seen as the bad guys and often did not receive punishment. This has led to worldwide protests for the justice of these deaths to be served.

What did the media coverage do for Floyd and Taylor? All this media coverage seems to be doing is bringing attention to these unlawful deaths, but not allowing for justice to come. People seem to flock to media outlets to share memories, feelings, pictures and hashtags, but is that doing anything to get the justice that these people deserve? There have been recent updates for the case on the officers who shot Taylor. But even though there has been widespread support for the Taylor family and Breonna herself, no police officers have been held accountable for her murder.

The media coverage has allowed the American people to see again more unlawful deaths at the hands of police officers.

The Black Lives Matter movement surged after the death of Michael Brown in 2014. Media coverage on his death is not as dense as it would be today, as only prominent media sources spoke on the shooting. In an article by CNN published on August 15th, 2014, it states, the fact “that Brown was unarmed is undisputed ? St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said every casing found at the scene was from the officer’s weapon ? but he said at a Sunday news conference that Brown was not an innocent victim.” Brown was still painted as a black man who did something wrong to get shot, even as evidence and eyewitnesses said otherwise.

The coverage of Brown’s death sparked protests and outrage at the lack of justice being served. Michael Brown’s family received a 1.5 million dollar settlement according to NBC news, but Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him at least six times, was not charged with his murder. Even as the media covered his death, the officer who harmed Brown and his family did not get punished.

It’s only recently that some severe punishment has been put into place in the instance of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, one of the officers involved, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, was fired and imprisoned, but it took several protests, thousands of articles and many months for him to face consequences.

Seeing this coverage myself, as a white woman, there is no way that I will ever understand the fear black people in America feel. I can say that I do feel anxiety build up when I am by myself at night, but I understand that my privilege is in the way for me to know the same fear that black men and women experience when they put their hands in their pockets (Tamir Rice), walk home (Michael Brown), leave their home (Akai Gurley), allegedly sell cigarettes (Eric Garner), hold a phone (Stephon Clark), and so many other things. Even though we see an influx in media coverage it does not seem to change the way things will turn out.

Innocent black people are killed by police officers and the protests and surge in the hashtag BlackLivesMatter brings attention to the deaths, but then it rests on the institutional racism that seems to be buried deep in policing.

I know I cannot do anything personally to end this cycle, but I believe that there might be a small light at the end of the still very long tunnel. Media outlets need to start talking about these shootings seriously, and call them what they are, murders. If this were to happen, then maybe the idea that all police shootings are innocent would slowly diminish. Those people who see police as heroes would finally notice the racism laced in the police system.