Citizen’s Review Boards: The Media Contribution
How does an organization like NACOLE thrive when so much of its existence depends upon perpetuating the assertion that the institutional core of professional law enforcement is so basically flawed that the only solution is to relinquish authority to a kaleidoscope collection of amateurs who have no practical skills or familiarity in the field they are judging.
Aside from the usual brew of political, class and economic factors, one significant contributor is the emergence of the media gospel of “fast news” in place of “accurate news,” and the pathological need of commentators to exhibit intellectual prowess by analysis and interpretation based on nothing more than preliminary (and often inaccurate) information which becomes part of the dialogue regardless of accuracy.
Therefore, it becomes essential to use examples to illustrate this point. I give you the crew of “Morning Joe,” a long running, highly successful and widely viewed daily broadcast on MSNBC.
On an early Thursday morning, July 28th, 2016, Morning Joe ran a clip of President Obama paying tribute to individuals he referred to as “brave souls who actually engage in their duty in spite of ridicule from those who do not” by dismissing the criticsas “the timid souls who criticize from the sidelines, but someone who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs, but who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.
Less than two months later, on Monday, August 15th, “Morning Joe” host, attorney, ex-Congressman and part time musician Joe Scarborough, passionately criticized a political decision to place an inexperienced, uninformed and unaware individual on a non law enforcement national policy board which was completely unfamiliar to that appointee’s area of expertise. He was absolutely stunned that a person who was “ignorant of the nuances” of his appointed position could be “in a position to influence policy.”
The message from these two individuals, one the political leader of this nation and the other an influential media star, was that those who criticize the work of others without comprehension lack courage, and those who make policy absent a grasp on practice are deceiving themselves and destructive to the integrity of the process.
Shortly thereafter, Tulsa PD (OK) happened. And all of that indignation against ignorant second guessers and unqualified decision makers was replaced by the red meat allure of a cop who used lethal force against a person constantly and reverently referred to as an “unarmed African American and father of four” by “Morning Joe” regular Willie Geist .
Delivering their resolute criticisms of the officers tactics from a video taken aboard a law enforcement helicopter several hundred feet in the air, this group of “smartest guys in the room,” none of which ever wore a badge, handled a call, tasted a fist, drew a weapon, or experienced the terror of an unscripted street encounter, declared the Tulsa officers guilty of gross negligence, acute stupidity, blatant insensitivity, and finally, racial hatred that resulted in murder. By doing so, they exposed the existence of the parallel universe they (and NACOLE) inhabit, and completely validated the foundation of this four part series.
Here is what transpired around that table on Wednesday, September 21st, and Thursday, September 22nd. The most vocal law enforcement experts were Scarborough, Geist (co host), Nicolle Wallace (a political commentator), Mike Barnicle (a freelance columnist), Harold Ford Jr. (former congressman and professor at New York University) and Eddie Glaude (a professor of African American studies at Princeton).
SCARBOROUGH: “There is absolutely no explanation for it. We’ve got eyes in the sky over that and we see exactly what’s happening. This is black and white. There needs to be due process. It needs to go through the proper steps. But I’ll tell you what. This better not be an inside job in Tulsa. They better have an independent prosecutor. And there better be justice here.”
“Unless there is more evidence that comes up, don’t see how you don’t charge this police officer.”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: As an attorney Joe, I’m sure you were trained professionally to understand that nothing relating to human nature is “black and white.” Likewise, don’t you find it ethically tricky to endorse due process and proper steps in a perfunctory manner as something to get out of the way in order to achieve your preconceived version of “justice?”
WALLACE: “Who cares (if the suspect was on PCP). His hands were in the air. What can you do?”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: Nicolle, I can state with complete confidence that the closest you have ever been to a “duster” is the Tulsa video. I know you won’t accept this, but people on this powerful animal tranquilizer are as unpredictable as Trump, as powerful as a draft horse, as deadly as a puff adder, and as cooperative as a doorknob. And they feel absolutely no pain. Its not what “you” can do, its what they can do to you.
SCARBOROUGH: “Hands against his car, legs spaced apart, walking slowly, I just don’t know what people she’s seen on PCP before. He does not look like a man under the influence of anything.”
BARNICLE: “….at five feet to the rear… and one of them is a drug recognition expert?”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: If the officer is a certified drug recognition expert, then she has not only seen them, but has arrested them, and quite possibly been injured by them. She has undergone professional training in order to comprehend dots that you couldn’t possibly connect. Why would you discard the officer’s training outright without at least waiting to receive verification?
GLAUDE: video of a man, hands up, seemingly complying in every way, shape, form or fashion.” “Your car can stall on a highway, you’re dead.”
SCARBOROUGH: “He does absolutely everything that police would tell him to do.”
BARNICLE: “ Why the massive police response.?”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. Information available to you at the time you made those statements from both the female informant and the officers at the scene revealed that the initial call was concerning a person who fled from his vehicle parked in the middle of the road, making bizarre statements, and appearing to be high. The officers, having that information, and watching the suspect walk AWAY from them toward his car against their repeated explicit commands, clearly understood that action to be “unreasonable”, possibly dangerous, thereby escalating the situation. And yes, he dropped his right hand when he reached the car. I could see it clearly because that is what I was focusing on, and that is because I (and not you) was professionally trained to understand the possible lethal consequences of ignoring that movement. And Mike, I counted two or three officers and a routine observation helicopter. You probably would want more cops around if someone dented your bumper at a Red Sox game.
GLAUDE: “We have the evidence, we’ve already seen the narrative being spun …”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: You have a one dimensional video, and you are ignoring the audio evidence that established red flags in the officer’s approach. Does that fit the definition of “spinning” also?
GEIST: “Even if they found PCP in the car, why did that mean he had to to be shot?”
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: You’ve got it backwards Willie. They found the PCP (unless you believe that it was planted or was simply a spin) after the shots were fired. Seeing drugs in a vehicle doesn’t automatically require execution, unless you subscribe to the Scarborough theory “if you were white and from neighborhoods we live in and had a pound of coke in the back and looked straight out of Miami Vice you wouldn’t get treated like that.”
And finally, one classically thoughtless, but illuminating statement that told law enforcement officers what is in store for them if the amateurs gain control of their ability to survive in the streets.
GEIST: “That comment from the helicopter (“that’s looks like a bad dude”) confirms every suspicion that African Americans have in this country about the way police look at them. They see an African American man walking down the street and they call him a bad dude.”
Then, Charlotte (NC) PD happened, and in a moment that defies human rationality, but confirms political rationality, Joe Scarborough was observed sheepishly tap dancing away from his harsh criticisms in a broadcast that aired on Wednesday, September 28th. It came on the heels of Harold Ford Jr’s observation that the (violent and weapons related) background of a suspect is immaterial to a field contact with police, his automatic assumption that officers don’t usually know background information prior to contact. Then he doubled down by adding another unrelated officer involved shooting incident to his judgement of law enforcement tactics where “officers had the wherewithal to shoot him and ALLOW him to go to the hospital.”
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: “There is a lot of jumps being made on the other side of the story so I’m just saying let’s put all the facts out there that we find.”
SCARBOROUGH: “…. these police officers continue to be tried in the press with the burden of presumption on them at all times. They do it every day.
THE QUALIFIED RESPONSE: And Morning Joe is part of the problem. Watch your own video.