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by Peter Moskos

December 12, 2014

Recipe for Outrage

If you want to be outraged, I find the lack of more public protest over the police-involved killing of Akai Gurley odd. I mean, if you're looking for an honest victim killed by police for no reason at all, why not focus on an honest victim killed for no reason at all (instead of say, a guy who robbed a store and then, almost assuredly, attacked a cop)?

Gurley was a guy walking down some dark stairs where he lived (the Pink Homes, NYC public housing). Next thing you he's struck in center mass by a police officer's bullet and dead. Just like that. Boom. Game over.

Seems like a rookie cop couldn't open a door without accidentally firing his gun (either that or he was so scared of being in the project stairwell that he fired blindly). This is an obvious, blatant, unambiguous, fuckup. And yet compared to Brown and Garner, you hear very little about Akai Gurley. Not to say there's been no coverage of his death, but is it even national news?
 Just imagine: the aftermath of Gurley's killing has been so non-controversial that we haven't even yet seen any attempt to personally besmirch the victim! I mean, come on now, I'm sure Fox News can dig up some previous incident or facebook picture that portrays Gurley in an unflattering light.

So why the lack of more outrage? I can think of three reasons -- lessons, you might even say -- as to how to handle a bad police-involved shooting.

1) We'll never know all the details. But apparently Commissioner Bratton felt like he knew enough to say right away that police messed up:
Bill Bratton characterized the incident as an “unfortunate tragedy” and an accident. Officials said Liang was holding a flashlight in his right hand and a Glock 9-mm. in the other when he opened the door to the eighth-floor landing.
Here's what Commissioner Bratton did not say, "I'm not commenting until we know all the details. An investigation is underway. Until we know all the details, we need to let the justice system work. But let me add that Gurley was no alter boy."

2) Sharpton has been pretty quiet about this. From last week's NY Post:
[Sharpton] muscled his way into the arrangements — and even put out press releases promising to deliver the eulogy — without ever consulting the family or offering to foot the bill.
But Gurley’s relatives told Sharpton to stay away rather than turn the somber ceremonies into a spectacle.
“Who made you the spokesperson of our family? We just want to bury our nephew with dignity and respect.”
“How can you do a eulogy for someone you don’t even know? It’s heartbreaking,” she said. By late Friday, Sharpton accepted a rare defeat and backed off, though he blamed it on “confusion and division” within the Gurley family.
Well that lessens the Sharpton Effect. Say what you want about Sharpton, but he does get media attention. Sharpton gives voice to the tree that otherwise just falls in the woods. And without anger, a perceived cover up, or a tone-deaf police department, there's little news story. Tragic mistakes are just a one-day story in the news.

3) The officer wasn't white. This matters, though I'm not certain how much. Last I checked, Asians can be racist, too. And other police-involved shootings involving non-white officers have become issues because of the race of the victim (Sean Bell, for instance). But certainly an "officer of color" (as they say) removes some of the typical boilerplate narrative.

So you've got an unquestionably innocent guy, and instant apology, a non-white cop, no Al Sharpton, and a justice system that hasn't (yet) let the shooter completely off the hook. All you're left with is some disembodied, vague fear of a rookie cop. That fear is probably more racist than anything that happened in the Ferguson shooting or Eric Garner's choking, but because it's all in an officer's mind until the gun gets fired, there's not much story.
For public outrage -- and I wish there were some way of addressing issues of racial justice and politics without focusing on individual ambiguous police incidents -- but maybe you need ambiguity to create conflict and allow people to disagree and project their moral ideology.

So here's my recipe for outrage (feel free to substitute some of the ingredients):

Take one beefy white cop and combine with an ambiguous hands-on police situation, a stonewalled inquiry, and a glug of bureaucratic tom-foolery. Do not apologize. Set aside. Place Al Sharpton in front of media cameras while at the side of the victim's family. Stir in some militarized police over-response (to taste) and add a twist of judicial inaction. Let simmer till everything bubbles over. Do not remove from heat.

Prep time takes years. But this handy recipe can be prepared in one day. Serves thousands.

[thanks to ZLO]


David Woycechowsky said...

You are making this more complicated than it is. Liang is going to be fairly punished. Same reason there were no protests when Officer Kerrick killed Ferrell. It is clear that Kerrick is going to be punished fairly. I guess this is a shorter versh of your point #1, but it is really all there is to it.

Moskos said...

Maybe. Justice is part of the issue.
Like I wrote here. http://www.copinthehood.com/2014/12/racial-progress-nicer-white-people-and.html
But I do think there's more to it.

Anonymous said...

Nope, you're wrong again. Cops being held accountable should be news (man bites dog) in your book. You might be right given how usually we get dicks like you defending the indefensible.

bacchys said...

I think the fact that (thus far) it seems those responsible are going to be held accountable, at least to some degreee, goes a long way to explaining the lack of protest.

That doesn't explain why the Crawford and Tamir Rice killings in Ohio are getting less press, though.

Perhaps it's just outrage fatigue, to a degree, and an inability to get outraged about X number of things at the same time.

I take issue with your "most assuredly" characterization of Brown attacking Wilson. Far more likely is that Wilson initiated the physical confrontation out of pique that Brown smart-mouthed him. It may be that Brown shouldn't have resisted at all, and that he presented a threat to Wilson's life when and how he did so, but Wilson lied his ass off on the stand with his "Gee, fellas, could you please walk on the sidewalk" bullshit characterization of what he said and did.

Anonymous said...

Cops hardly ever lie. (Pull the other one!)

Anonymous said...

The Louimas also shut Sharpton out. Why? They didn't need him.

But the Diallos, the Browns, etc. needed Sharpton or someone like him.

As for MB attacking Wilson, it seems quite possible that the door rebounding on Wilson was interpreted by him as an attack.

Moskos said...

Maybe. But I suspect the background of the family has a lot to do with it. Sharpton doesn't connect so well with immigrant blacks. Louima was Hatian. I don't know about the Gurley family, but seeing how his mom is a union nurse in NYC, it's very likely she's Caribbean.

Unknown said...

Most Black people don't connect with Sharpton at all... in the black community he is viewed as yet another person who exploits and profits off the repeated historical injustices blacks have had to deal with on a daily basis without using his money and platform to truly help "his people" where are his schools? His news network? His housing foundations?His food banks or women's health centers? Where is his community response teams to protect our neighborhoods from known crooked cops?... he's only black when it pays