The tragic shooting death of a Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer has triggered protests throughout the country and hearings in our nation’s capital and provided fodder for those who want to inject racism into the picture.
The Florida teenager was African-American, and the watchman is Hispanic.
The fatal shooting happened several weeks ago, with the young man’s body remaining in the morgue for several days before his family was notified. Police did not detain the watchman, saying he had acted in self-defense under the “stand your ground” concept. Florida officials have not said whether they intend to arrest or prosecute the watchman.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the tragic shooting added sparks to an already highly combustible racial tinderbox where some seem to be looking for almost any excuse to ignite dangerous racial reactions.
In far too many situations like this, first reactions, first charges and countercharges and first explanations are based on inaccurate or incomplete information. And, in too many situations, these first reactions can set an inaccurate stage that can spark careless and harmful reactions.
Unfortunately, some of the early news reports of the shooting failed to give an accurate description of the actions of the watchman and the young man or police officers. Whether or not these reports were flawed accidentally or on purpose remains to be determined, but they added to the explosiveness of the situation.
NBC radio officials have acknowledged they edited or censored the initial conversation between the watchman and police officers when the watchman called to tell officers he was following a suspicious-acting individual. Police officers asked if the person was “black, white or Hispanic,” to which the watchman responded, “He looks black.”
The NBC radio report was trimmed, edited or censored to suggest the watchman volunteered to police, with no prompting or question, that the young man was black.
This caused many to claim the shooting was due to racial profiling, which, in turn, resulted in the massive outbursts condemning the watchman and claiming it was a case of racial bias.
It is a clear case of editing or censorship, not likely an accident. The big question is, why? Was someone trying to inject racism or trying to incite the public?
The same could and should be asked about the ABC television report that tried to present a inaccurate picture of the watchman. ABC TV pictures showed the watchman getting out of a police car and waking around in an enclosed garage. TV commentators pointed out there was no sign of a head injury or blood even though a witness to the accident claimed the teenager had punched or knocked the watchman to the ground and pounded his head into the sidewalk. The announcer emphasized they had made a close and careful examination of the pictures and that there was no evidence of injury.
Later, in the same, or very similar television pictures, showing the same scene, viewers could see a bloodied head and were told there was blood on a shirt. Also, reports said the watchman had been cleaned up a bit before getting to the police station.
The point is, the media, this time NBC and ABC, gave an inaccurate report.
NBC spokespeople merely said “an error” had been made in the production process.
ABC hasn’t said what happened in the report that a close, careful examination of their TV picture showed no evidence of blood.
True, mistakes are bound to happen, but in a case so sensitive as a shooting that resulted in the death of a black teenager by a volunteer Hispanic watchman, extra care could be taken to make sure the information presented by the news media is accurate.
There already is enough public skepticism about the media and its accuracy or fairness. Situations such as the NBC and ABC reports on the Florida shooting do nothing but provide added evidence for those who question the honesty of the media.
Some on the print media side will be quick to suggest radio and television are more in show business than news reporting, but instances of inaccuracy and dishonesty cannot be marginalized or tolerated.
Editorials and opinion are one thing, but facts are facts, and what NBC and ABC did was wrong, wrong as can be, and because of this supposed carelessness or deliberate editing, the shooting tragedy has escalated to an even higher, more dangerous level of anger, mistrust and racial tension.
Police and law enforcement officials already face a tough, delicate job in handling this case, but it was made even more difficult by the conflicting news reports. Will their actions be tempered or swayed by the intense pressure now being exerted?
The only way to resolve this situation is for the law to be followed in an open and honest way.
Again, the erroneous initial news reports by NBC and ABC have made this task more difficult.