Blame the Victim
A recurring pattern in media coverage of police brutality cases is to focus on the how the victim’s past, mode of dress, choice of music, friendships, behavior when confronted, etc., somehow legitimized the officer’s response.
The Black community is all too familiar with the racially coded victim-blaming rhetoric, headlines and sound bytes:
“Unarmed Black Man Shot in Area Known for Drug Activity”
” …had several run-ins with the law”
“… moved toward the officer’s weapon”
Many media reports have a similar template: Teenager Trayvon Martin, gunned down in a Florida street in 2012, was wearing a “hoodie,” had been suspended from school, and pummeled his killer George Zimmerman as he went for Zimmerman’s gun.
Reports this month say that Michael Brown, 18, who was fatally shot six times on Aug. 9, by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, was a violent thief. And yep, Brown also went for Wilson’s gun.
The character assassination of the victims, who oftentimes are young, unarmed Black men, raises the same old persistent racial stereotypes and is used to drive home the inevitable conclusion that the police victim “got what he deserved.”
What’s scary is this strategy usually works.
Fairfield University history professor Yohuru Williams says, “Ferguson police were successful in shifting the discourse from an unarmed teen to a strong-arm thug killed by police.”