One Police Plaza

The Media and Black Lives

August 17, 2015

We don’t know the full story in the latest police killing of an unarmed African-American — this one in Arlington, Texas — and the summary firing of the white police trainee who fatally shot him.

“It doesn’t ring true,” said a former top NYPD official. “There has to be something more for them to fire him. Either they have another piece of information they haven’t released, or they are bowing to political or politically correct pressure.”

Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson was within his rights to fire Brad Miller, a 49-year-old police trainee who fatally shot 18-year-old Christian Taylor inside an auto dealership in the middle of the night. As a trainee, Miller has no right to due process and cannot appeal the decision. A similar situation exists in the NYPD, where cops out of the police academy are on probation for 18 months before they are entitled to a departmental trial and union protection.

But describing Taylor merely as an “unarmed African American” as much of the media did, tells only part of the story.

The New York Times described him as “an unarmed African American college student.” The Dallas Daily News — Arlington is a Dallas suburb — called Taylor “an unarmed college football player [who was shot] during a suspected burglary.”

Actually, Taylor had been caught on videotape trashing cars at the dealership, then driving a car parked outside through the dealer’s plate glass front window, actions that prompted the call to police.

The Times did report this, but much deeper in its story. Downplaying such facts fuels the narrative, begun last year after the police “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island and amplified in the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that police are killing unarmed African Americans without cause or reason — and that black lives don’t matter.

Similar downplaying continued in stories last week about the anniversary protests in Ferguson over Brown’s death. An Associated Press story about the resulting police shooting of 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. — caught on videotape with a gun police said was stolen and who police said fired at them — referred to Brown as “black and unarmed” when he was shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer the year before.

A Times story about the Harris shooting described Brown as “an unarmed teenager who was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson.”

Both those facts are true. But what about the rest of the narrative that neither story included? That Brown was caught on videotape just before he was shot, robbing a convenience store and manhandling a clerk who tried to stop him; or that a Justice Department report, supported by DNA evidence, backed Wilson’s story that, before Wilson shot him, Brown had tried to grab his gun.

Of course, a different dynamic occurred in Garner’s death. He was resisting arrest over so minor a crime that it is no longer enforced — selling “loosie” cigarettes. The incident was caught on videotape so that there is little dispute over what actually happened.

Hence the chant, now a mantra: “Black Lives Matter.”

LET’S HEAR IT FOR BERNIE. While Bernie Kerik continues to take his lumps, most recently in a novel by the two-minute former NYPD cop Billy Stanton, Kerik has his supporters. One is the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s former spokesman Andrew Case, who said of the NYPD’s 40th commissioner: “There are plenty of people who did many worse things than he did who haven’t had to pay such a price.

“Say what else you will about him, Kerik was the last police commissioner to impose serious discipline based on CCRB investigations — in one year (2001), he suspended 66 officers based on CCRB recommendations. In 12 years, Kelly suspended annually, on average, only 15. And last year Bratton only suspended seven.”

As for Stanton, no one has anything to say about him, including his past friends, deputy commissioners Steve Davis and John Miller, neither of whom, like Stanton himself, returned calls from NYPD Confidential.

Back in the day when NY Magazine did a cover story and photo shoot on Stanton, he was at Elaine’s restaurant with Miller, Bill Bratton [then a civilian] and the late, great Jack Maple, and wanted a caption under a picture of the four of them together to read, “Billy Stanton and his three bitches.” 

That caption never made the magazine, maybe because Bratton was furious when he heard about it.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt