examining the biased reporting of the philly shootings

August 15, 2019
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By now, anti-Black bias in media shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention. But it’s important to understand just how quickly it spreads online, and how some in the media fan its flame.

Take, for instance, last night’s shooting in Philadelphia, where a suspect engaged in an hours-long shootout with police.

Journalist Alexandria Hoff tweeted that a crowd of bystanders were taunting, yelling and laughing at police during the standoff.

Her tweet quickly gathered steam with over 4,000 retweets and 9,000 likes. The reaction to her tweet were thinly veiled racist remarks, with commenters calling Philly residents “animals” and “thugs.” Her reporting was picked up by national news outlets.

But later, Hoff clarified her statement, pointing out that the vast majority of the bystanders on the scene had been respectful and that she had simply been “startled” by the chaos on the scene. Of course, her follow-up tweet pointing out that most everyone was respectful only got 273 retweets and failed to generate any national headlines.

What’s worse is the complete lack of nuance in her reporting.

She never mentioned the fact that the dangerous standoff happened near a local children’s daycare facility, where staffers had to lock-down during the active shooting with babies, whose desperate parents couldn’t reach them. One father, Kenny Williams, says he got this text from his daughter saying, “Dad, you don’t have to get us from the day care, there’s been a shooting. So we’re going to be here for a while.” I can only imagine what these parents felt at being apart from their children not knowing if they were okay. Anyone can understand parents desperate to get to their children during an active shooting responding with hostility at being prevented from doing so.

Police made one bystander stand in the rain with his infant for hours while his fiancé was alone inside his home. Journalist Max Marin reported that concerned neighbors begged police to escort the man inside, but they refused.

Eventually a police officer entered the man’s home, retrieved his car keys, and had him wait in his car to keep his infant dry rather than letting him go inside his home.

Hostility and anger are understandable reactions to this kind of chaos and distress, but many cannot see our pain and our distress as viable. We are “thugs” and “animals” for having emotional reactions to chaotic situations that endanger our families and communities.

This is also happening in a city where earlier this year, 72 police officers were placed on administrative leave and 13 were suspended or fired after racist and violent social media posts revealed exactly what some in the police department feel about Black folks. BuzzFeed reported that 64 of the officers had leadership roles including sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.

Black Philly resident’s distrust of police isn’t happening in a vacuum and it’s important to remember that context while talking about them.