The problem with copaganda

Isabel Mathy, Opinion Columnist

Journalism and propaganda have operated together in the United States since its inception. In modern media, copaganda (propaganda by and for cops) has seen a steady stream of content. This content reproduces the rhetoric and logic used to justify police brutality, the prison industrial complex and the modern slavery that comes with it.

The New York Times is a common culprit, posting an article just this June titled “Democrats Face Pressure on Crime From a New Front: Their Base.” This article claims that Democrats who used to be anti-cop and supported police reform are now tough on crime. The author claims that this is because Democrats – by trade – care more for communities of color than their Republican counterparts and that increased policing supposedly helps these communities. This article gives no other reason why the Democratic Party (which never really supported police reform anyway) suddenly shifted their stance. By claiming that politicians are listening to their base and following the will of the people, the article regurgitates copaganda. 

Alec Karakatsanis, a civil rights lawyer, claims that the New York Times commonly “stat[es]the asserted motivations of powerful people as their actual motivations.” In fact, the New York Times article does not detail who exactly the Democrats are listening to. It simply uses the vague term “communities.” 

Another common tactic in mainstream copaganda is feigning care for communities of color to justify mass incarceration, and the aforementioned article is no exception. The other major copaganda strategy is one that keeps coming up: reporting crime rates. The article says that there is an alarming increase in crime rates, though according to the FBI, crime rates are at near-historic lows. Karakatsanis says that this idea of crime rate spikes are actually created by the media and politicians in order to manufacture a crisis that doesn’t exist. Put simply: the New York Times piece is copaganda. It is full of falsehoods, misdirection and blanket claims, all in order to support a police and prison apparatus that the elite benefit off of.

The prison apparatus is brutal, violent and dehumanizing. This is due to the convenient caveat in the 13th Amendment, which legalizes slavery of incarcerated people. In fact, most prisons have a labor system. Given the overwhelming minority presence in prison due to over-policing, as Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated, copaganda – an attempt to lie about the true nature of policing – is culpable in this racial violence.

The Wire itself is not immune to copaganda. The Oct. 5 article “Investigating crime rates in Walla Walla” cites Sergeant Gunner Fulmer of the Walla Walla Police Department for a majority of the article. Fulmer, according to his campaign page for city commissioner, “served the Walla Walla Valley for 11 years fighting the war on drugs and the associated crime that inevitably came with them.” Sergeant Gunner Fulmer – like most other law enforcement officers in America – is quoted uncritically and displays a shocking misunderstanding of the law, particularly regarding drug policy. 

Fulmer incorrectly claims that “in our state, they have all but legalized drugs.”  Here, Fulmer is most likely alluding to State v. Blake. State v. Blake was a 2021 Washington Supreme Court case that removed simple drug possession from felony status, though simple drug possession is still considered a misdemeanor crime. The only people that benefited from the ruling are people with small amounts of drugs for personal use. Violent drug charges, distribution, trafficking and manufacturing are still illegal. There is a Three Strikes law for simple possession, but, contrary to Fulmer’s claims, first and second-time offenders must be referred to drug treatment centers and complete health evaluations; this far improves the livelihoods of users and may actually reduce future violent crime. 

The rhetoric and logic deployed by copaganda must be rejected outright. Drugs are not legal in Washington; cops still don’t help and there is no crime wave. Over incarcerating is rampant, and Walla Walla is not an exception.