Musings from outside the mainstream.
Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger, recently ran a story with the following headline:
Watch Seattle Police Pepper Spray Teacher Jesse Hagopian on MLK Day
The article includes a photo showing a stream of pepper spray directed at Hagopian and a quote from his lawyer, former Seattle NAACP President James Bible, saying “Jesse Hagopian had finished giving a powerful speech about how black lives matter when he was sprayed with pepper spray by a Seattle Police Officer.”
As reported, and with the disingenuous selection of the photo, this article suggests that Hagopian was singled out, and possibly because of his role in the Martin Luther King celebrations.
The photo was taken from a 15 second video provided by Bible that was also linked in the article. Watching it on the first glace, and with repeated viewings, it’s pretty obvious that the officer used a wide spray that was not targeting anyone specifically.
It is ironic that the very video they link to in the article offers more nuance than is reported in the story. It would have been far more accurate to begin the article like this:
A Seattle police officer began spraying protesters as some were dispersing approaching a police blockade. Among them was Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian who had participated in the MLK celebration as a keynote speaker.
This would be a more accurate lead paragraph for the article that can then address his tort claim against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department. It would be also fair game to use the heavily slanted quote from his attorney as the Seattle Police Department had the opportunity to respond and declined.
But should it be used?
Let’s be clear. The demonstration, the pepper spray incident and the subsequent tort claim are all news and worthy of being reported on. The Stranger article, however, is misleading and inflammatory and relies primarily on one source. It’s shoddy journalism that does little to further the discussion of race in America.
If Hagopian feels wronged or targeted because of his race and his role in the event, he has every right to bring charges. But, if all he has for evidence is this video he doesn’t have much of a case to prove that. If the author had more sources, he didn’t cite them in the article.
And if that’s the case, that there aren’t any other sources, then what does the coverage in The Stranger give us other than outrage?
The trouble with most of these stories that have snippets of a video recording is that they simply aren’t conclusive. They are graphic and can certainly illicit an emotional response that can paint a picture in the first viewing. But when reviewed that reaction often does not hold up; Rodney King and Eric Garner are two unfortunate examples.
When we respond only to the knee jerk reaction, and report on only that, we are setting the stage for outrage when the video and circumstances are examined under scrutiny and with multiple witnesses. This isn’t an apology for police behaviors or the entitlement of protestors. But it very definitely is a criticism of the reporting that feeds into the division of race in our country.
Because what happens when we arrive at these verdicts where officers are not found guilty?
We are left with a sense of failed justice and no amount of review seems to be able to overcome that. The root of this sense of failure and outrage lies in sensationalistic reporting that lacks a balanced viewpoint. The Stranger article had enough evidence in the very video that was supplied to them and that they linked in their article to warrant at least a note that many others were sprayed besides Hagopian.
Discussions on The Stranger comment section focused mostly on the police behavior.
But no one who watched the video, and expressed outrage, acknowledged the voice of the female police officer. Was I the only one to hear in her voice that she felt threatened? A few acknowledged how small she was, (look at the cops on either side of her.) But no one seemed to notice, at the beginning of the video, the man with the sign who was quite near to the officers making a gesture and attempting to verbally engage with them at close range?
Somehow all of this is either missed or dismissed.
Despite the romantic notions of one blogger who felt empowerd by walking arm in arm chanting the likes of “hands up, don’t shoot” I find these protests counter productive. And certainly not non-violence as practiced by Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
When John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the raised fist salute in the 1968 Olympics or the Rams football players who came on the field with their arms raised as a sign of protest, they were alone, in front of an audience of millions. That’s what makes the statements so powerful.
But to be part of a crowd and do it in the face of police, that’s intimidation, not peaceful protest.
In closing, if Jesse Hagopian wants to file suit against the city and police, so be it. But I think he’d be more in line with Ghandi and King if he asked for a meeting that included others who were sprayed, the police officer who used the tear gas and other police officers on the line as well as the decision maker in the police department who drew the line at that intersection.
Maybe we could create a dialogue for discussions on how everyone is affected by fear.