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Through The Media Lens: Covering Race and Police Brutality

Bob Butler

Bob Butler

By Bob Butler 

The second half of 2014 has been marked by the shooting deaths of four African-American males by local law enforcement — Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York, John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio — that have attracted the attention of national media and the federal government, and shined a light on the issue of policing in minority communities.

It has also been marked by some exceptional journalism on the subject, as well as some alarming narratives from journalistic choices that, while not necessarily intentional, serve to perpetuate stereotypes of Black men as dangerous criminals.

Race is present in the dynamics around these stories and those who are involved in producing these stories. Put another way: while a diverse group of journalists has been on the ground reporting this story, the same cannot be said about who makes decisions about what will be covered and how.

Some of the coverage goes into great detail about how the victims’ actions may have contributed to their own demise: John Crawford should not have tried to buy a toy rifle at Walmart, Mike Brown should not have (allegedly) stolen cigars from a convenience store, Eric Garner should not have (allegedly) been selling loose cigarettes and Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a toy gun.

These cases are not the first, nor will they be the last, involving Black males and the police. It must be pointed out that Black males are not the only ones being shot. Dillon Taylor in Utah and Gil Collar in Alabama were White and also unarmed when police shot them. The difference is the media coverage of their cases does not imply that they deserved to die.

From the breaking news coverage of these events to the analysis that followed, and will hopefully continue, it is important to recognize the negative patterns that can emerge in such stories, and to discuss strategies for countering these patterns.

Two questions can help guide this process: Is this information relevant? And how will this affect the story?

A big part of how narrative is shaped in these stories starts with the photos of those involved. While availability of photos can be a challenge, especially in the early stages of a fast-moving story, efforts must be made to paint the fullest picture (pun intended) of the central figures. Images depicting black men solely as menacing, threatening or dangerous only fuel existing stereotypes.

Weighing whether to include details about a black victim’s criminal background or drug use also contributes to the narrative. Here, balance is important. Is there an attempt to report the officer’s history? Does the officer have a disciplinary history or a record of complaints regarding use of force? Is the victim’s background relevant to the specific incident that ended his life? If so, explain this to readers, lest it be interpreted as gratuitous or malicious.

In the case of Tamir Rice, why did the Northwest Ohio Media Group report on his parents’ criminal records? What did that have to do with Rice being shot by police?

Stories like Ferguson and the deaths of Crawford, Garner and Rice reaffirm the urgency of more diverse American newsrooms. Look no further than the membership of the National Association of Black Journalists to find many examples of responsible reporting.

NABJ was founded in 1975 in part, “to monitor and sensitize all media to racism.” Nearly 40 years later, NABJ still finds it necessarily to fulfill this role. It is our hope that those committed to a better approach to exploring issues of race and society will join us in examining how we can all improve.

Bob Butler is the President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide. For additional information, please visit, http://www.nabj.org

Salvation Army Serves FREE Christmas Dinner

Volunteers serve Thanksgiving Dinner at The Salvation Army: Serving on the food line (left to right) is Nancy Veaegas, Niyahn Summey, Walt Summey, and Robert Sanchez. We are ready for Christmas Dinners.   (Photo by Ricardo Tomboc)

Volunteers serve Thanksgiving Dinner at The Salvation Army: Serving on the food line (left to right) is Nancy Veaegas, Niyahn Summey, Walt Summey, and Robert Sanchez. We are ready for Christmas Dinners. (Photo by Ricardo Tomboc)

SAN BERNARDINO, CA- The San Bernardino Salvation Army Corp hosts its annual Christmas Dinner for hundreds of needy families at its headquarters, at 746 W. Fifth Street in San Bernardino.  As always, the dinner will be held on  Christmas Day, Thursday, December 25th, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Christmas Eve worship serves start at 7:00 p.m. in the chapel at the same location.
For 127 years, the annual San Bernardino Salvation Army Christmas dinner has served thousands of people in thousands of families.  The Christmas Dinner helps single mothers with children and people who do not have the means to provide them selves a Christmas dinner or seek Christian fellowship with others.
People come from throughout the Inland Valley for this Christmas dinner, which often serves more than 300 people each year. This year, guests will enjoy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, consisting of potatoes, gravy, stuffing, vegetables, pie and other food received through donations.
“Every year, the community and volunteers come together to provide the food preparation and service of holiday meals to dinner guests,” said Major Daniel Henderson, Commander of The Salvation Army San Bernardino Corp. “Our volunteers really do an outstanding job, helping to make a difference for those who are less fortunate during the holiday season, as well as throughout the year.”
Many of the services provided by the Salvation Army, such as this annual Community Christmas dinner, are made possible through in-kind donations and money raised through the Red Kettle Bell Ringer campaign. Each Christmas, Inland Empire Salvation Army Corps combine to serve more than 1,000 people holiday meals.
The hungry families are joined by hundreds of volunteers who help prepare the food and serve meals to the families.  Along with asking volunteers to help serve food, the Salvation Army is encouraging people to donate turkeys or hams, side dishes and other food by calling (909) 888-1336.
“The San Bernardino Corps also needs food every day for those at our Hospitality House living shelter,” said Major Henderson. Up to 75 family members stay in its transitional and emergency family shelters.
“Last year 60,475 free, hot, nutritious meals were served to the hungry from The Salvation Army’s homeless shelter, and Sunday through Friday at 4:45 p.m. at the Corps Office on 746 West 5th Street in San Bernardino,” said Major Henderson.
For more information about the Salvation Army Christmas dinner, donations or volunteering for The Salvation Army San Bernardino Corps, call (909) 888-1336.

Servant Leadership to make a difference

In bow tie -Dr. Samuel Gibbs, Polemarch with Richard Stewart in red jacket- both are Chapter members.  They are pictured with Carla Stone.

In bow tie -Dr. Samuel Gibbs, Polemarch with Richard Stewart
in red jacket- both are Chapter members. They are pictured with Carla Stone.

RIVERSIDE, CA- The Riverside Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., donated toys to the Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy. Terrance Stone, YVYLA CEO reflected on the need for toys:

“Many of our children suffer the effects of poverty every day, continuously going without, knowing that luxuries like new toys or clothes are simply not available to them. Our children handle this reality with an incredible grace and humility that is truly touching. This is why watching their faces on Christmas morning, is so special for us.”

“We believe we are growing stronger each year and will continue to bring energy, effort, innovation, and commitment to the vital area of community service. This toy drive is key and critical to the face the community sees from our Fraternity and therefore important to our overall efforts in engaging youth, community leadership, and making a difference,” said Carl Willis the Chapter’s Guide Right Chairman.

Members of the Chapter will be a part of The 9th Annual Toy Drive and Resource Fair December 20th 10:00am-2:00pm at 16725 Valencia Ave, in Fontana, CA. Significant supporters include Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, Southern California Edison, Spark of Love, Kaiser Permanente, New York Life, Inland Body and Paint, and Fountain of Youth Apostolic Church