Arresting Tales

Why cops love the media: CTA Red Line shooting coverage


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I am not a big fan of how the media covers police use-of-force incidents.

Today's news offers another prime example of how ignorance of police tactics and the reality of gunfighting, coupled with the mainstream media's "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, fuels anti-police sentiment and reinforces a narrative in which bigoted cops routinely kill people of color.

Chicago Police officers shot and killed a man on a CTA Red Line train at the Garfield/55th stop yesterday.  According to initial reports, the man pointed a gun at officers during a struggle.

Today we have these headlines:

Witnesses dispute police account of fatal CTA shooting  from Chicago Breaking News, and

Witnesses Contradict Police Account of Fatal Shooting  from NBC Chicago.

Uh-oh.  Could it be that the police are engaged in a cover-up?  That trigger-happy cops shot down some unfortunate young man?  Let's see what these "witnesses" have to say.

From Chicago Breaking News:

"...several witnesses who telephoned the Tribune and other media outlets Saturday countered that version of events, arguing that Lash appeared unarmed and that the shooting appeared unjustified.

"I didn't see a gun at all," said Natalie Bruce, who said she was on her way home from church when the shooting occurred. "The officers put his hands behind his back. They seemed like they were patting him down, and they tussled a little bit, but they had him pinned against the wall."

Ordered to leave the train, Bruce said she did not see the actual shooting but heard shots as she stepped onto the platform."

From NBC Chicago:

"They was kinda like trying to put his hands behind his back, and the lady officer said, 'he has a gun on him,' and that's when she shot him," one witness, who asked not to be identified, told NBC Chicago.

Another witness said the man on the train did indeed have a gun, but got rid of it before officers approached him.

"Once he seen them coming, he did have his gun on him, but he threw it, and then he ran around to the other doorway.  And once he got in the doorway, it was a female officer that fired two shots," the witness said.

Another witness, Natalie Bruce, told the Tribune she was on the train and saw officers put Lash's hands behind his back.

"They seemed like they were patting him down, and they tussled a little bit, but they had him pinned against the wall," she said.

Bruce told the paper she was ordered to leave the train, but heard the shots a moment later from the platform.

Let's be clear: several unknown people, who didn't want their names used, who for all we know weren't even present at the shooting, called the Tribune to say the shooting wasn't justified.  The one "witness" who was willing to provide her name did not even see the shooting, but was close enough to hear it.  NBC Chicago quotes two unnamed witnesses, and then, probably thrilled that someone actually gave her name, included the Tribune's account in their own coverage.

Good lord.

If I based a police report, or an affidavit for a warrant on crap like this I'd be laughed out of court.  

When are reporters going to realize that, in the aftermath of virtually every police shooting, people are going to crawl out of the woodwork claiming that the police didn't have to shoot. Some of them will be sincere, but lacking any understanding of what they've just seen, will be wrong.  Some will be motivated by dislike for the police, some by affection for, family ties or gang affiliation with the dead man.  Some just relish a chance to talk to a reporter.   The same people very rarely talk to, or cooperate with, anyone with the lawful task of investigating such an incident.

Both stories offer Ms. Bruce's account--that the officers had placed the man's hands behind his back, and that they "tussled" with him--as an indication that the police account is wrong.

Guess what?  Those two accounts are not mutually exclusive.  

What cops know, and what the general public does not, is that the most dangerous moment in any encounter is when the officer first puts her hands on the person she's going to arrest.  The vast majority of shootings in which police are killed occur at a distance of six feet or less.  Reading these accounts, I have a good image in my mind of how this shooting unfolded, but I'm sure the average (non-cop) reader might not.

Unfortunately news headlines are driven by controversy and not sober analysis, and so we get stories like these.  These articles do not inform, they inflame.


If you'd like to read more about how and why we use force, you can start here:

An Arresting Tales anthology of police use-of-force stories

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8 Comments

Moshucat said:

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If someone says gun most people aren't looking to see but ducking in fear. Doubt is a key word here benefit of the doubt is also a key phrase. This officers career my be over and a young mans life is over. If you don't know anything "shut up" if you do come forward. Our officers do our dirty work everyday, just once could the public do the right thing. Or better still vow "never" to call 911 again.

SomethingToSay said:

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"Witnesses" make all the difference, especially video witnesses, and should not be derisively dismissed as a matter of habit..by your or anyone else.
I think that the practice of law enforcement, combined with the normal human trait of habitual repetition, causes some police officers to wildly over-react, in a violent manner that is completely unjustified by the circumstances.
The generalized distrust of the Police arises when the Police Department attempts to "justify" the wild over-reaction and ensuing violence by fraudulently charging the citizen with a crime they clearly didn't commit, and by inventing (lying) about the circumstances surrounding the event.
The first action, the cop over-reaction, is a "one person can sometimes do bad things" issue.
The second action, the lie and coverup, is a "I can't ever trust the system of laws in this place" issue, and is extremely toxic to the ongoing function of our society....even more toxic than crime itself.
Your unhappiness with the 3 months it took for a review board to clear the Montana Officer in the self-defense shooting in the other video leads me to believe that you don't really understand why it is vitally important to have a fair, independent, albeit time consuming process for assessing all Officer involved killings.

I'd be interested in your opinion about this event, and about the statements of the witness. Orlando cop breaks 84 year old man's neck by pile driving him. (vid) http://is.gd/fjIqe Text: http://is.gd/fjIwZ

irishpirate said:

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Well seems like Mother Tribune has taken down the later posts on this subject.

I guess they lack the "testicular virility" Rod Blago talked about.

So much for truth, justice and the American way.

I guess commentary is fine until it offends someone, somewhere.

http://www3.timeoutny.com/chicago/blog/out-and-about/2010/09/tribs-chicagonow-hosts-cops-racist-rant-three-days-and-counting/

The forces of political correctness have won this battle.

Yet the war continues.........

Hopefully, this stupid action on the part of the Tribune will lead to this post going "viral" and a real discussion about the problems of policing AND the problems of inner city America.

ChiAnders said:

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Joe, you got hosed.

EB said:

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where did the original post go? please don't tell me CN made you take it down. :(

burtfisher said:

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Let me be sure I have this right. This person was convicted of multiple felonies in the past, and he was in possession of a firearm? So he was knowingly committing a felony on this current date? I don't know why the discussion continues past this point. Maybe someone should print out a big poster that says "WARNING: IF YOU COMMIT AN ARMED FELONY IN THIS TOWN YOU MAY BE KILLED BY POLICE. WE DO NOT WANT FELONS TO CARRY GUNS. WE HIRE THE POLICE." Of course, the only way to avoid this problem is to not carry a gun if you are a convicted felon.

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