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Before I even start this blog, I feel it’s necessary to provide a bit of a disclaimer upfront.
First of all, this is not a blog post about #BlackLivesMatter – not in a positive way, and not in a negative way. It’s also not a post about #CopsLivesMatter, or #AllLivesMatter, or any other viral movement desperately trying to minimise complex racial issues into an 140 character internet meme.
This is a blog about media narrative, and in particular the need for news outlets to simplify the world into a series of coherent events. That’s it. If you want to discuss any topic other than media narrative – please don’t tweet me.
Now that’s out the way, let’s talk about Korryn Shandawn Gaines.
Earlier this week, US police officers shot Korryn Gaines dead in front of her five-year-old son in Randallstown, Maryland. As yet another victim in a long line of shootings by American police, UK and US media outlets were quick to highlight Korryn’s skin colour and declare that the shooting was yet more evidence of institutionalised racism within the American police force.
The Guardian’s headline proclaimed: “Black woman shot dead by police during alleged standoff while holding son”. The BBC settled on a much simpler “US police kill woman as child watched.”
What a tragic example of the endemic racism which runs so deep throughout the United States.
Of course, what these headlines don’t say, is that Ms Gaines was in fact brandishing a shotgun at time. It also doesn’t mention that Ms Gaines was allegedly using her five-year-old son as a human shield.
What you have here is not an example of endemic racism in the police force, or even just an example of trigger-happy US cops. This is an example of a multiple hour standoff between armed police and a woman brandishing a shotgun. The police had a right to enter the property and even had a warrant for the arrest of her ex-husband – who was, at the time, wanted on charges of assault.
Given these details it’s hard to understand how anyone can declare Korryn Gaines’ death a racially motivated killing. The fact that Korryn Gaines is black seems about as relevant to the story as the fact that she’s right handed. At the end of the day, if you’re threatening to shoot the police it really doesn’t matter which hand you’re holding the shotgun with – the end result is likely to be the same.
None of this is to say that there aren’t racially motivated murders committed by the US police force. And yes, I know that the cops shot first. But as much as that fact seems relevant in the Star Wars universe, when it comes to matters of life and death the police typically don’t hang around to find out whether the person shouting “I’m going to kill you”, really means it.
Whatever your views on Korryn Gaines, my concern lies in the media’s portrayal of these events. Rather than actually assessing and then reporting the facts, numerous media outlets have attempted to join their own dots, weaving together a narrative which doesn’t reflect the complexities of the real world.
In the same way that minor celebrity deaths always receive more coverage after a major celebrity dies, the recent spout of genuine racially motivated shootings has encouraged grubby Buzzfeed hacks to actively seek out stories that enhance the pre-existing narrative. This isn’t because these journalists genuinely care about police corruption or actually believe that #BlackLivesMatter, it’s simply because white-on-black police shooting are “so in right now“.
These people are literally using racial tension as the basis for clickbait!
While it’s easy to understand why journalists would want – or even need – to simplify the world into heroes and villains and good and evil, the truth is that reality is a lot more complicated than that. Not every police shooting is a murder and not every criminal is a source of sympathy.
For once can we just fuck the narrative and focus on the facts.