Columnist Malpractice On The Tamir Rice Tragedy

This is not how police saw Tamir Rice before he was shot, but never mind: the points is to horrify the public, not to accurately explain what happened.

This is not how police saw Tamir Rice before he was shot, but never mind: the objective is to inflame public opinion, not to accurately convey what happened and why.

Washington Post reporter Lonnae O’Neal found herself compelled by the Tamir Rice grand jury decision to write the kind of irresponsible column for the paper that can be written but shouldn’t be written—not by a professional journalist, not when public passions are inflamed, not when complex and entangled issues need analysis, careful words, perspective and wisdom. It is an emotional scream of pain and frustration, unleavened by objectivity, fairness or restraint. Such columns do much damage, and no good. Such columns are destructive. I hope writing it relieved her pain, but that’s not justification enough.

I was alerted to the kind of column it would be  by its first sentences:

A 12-year-old black boy walks into a Cleveland park, plays with a toy gun and, within seconds of arriving, a police officer shoots him dead. His partner tackles the boy’s 14-year-old sister as she rushes to his side, handcuffs the girl and shoves her into a squad car, helpless, as her brother lay dying.

If we want to accurately describe the event that ended  Tamir Rice’s life so prematurely from the perspective of people who loved him, and of people mourning the senseless death of a child, those who read about the boy’s death and want to cry to the skies, “Why? How can this happen?,” then that is a defensible beginning….maybe.  That is not her intent, however. The intent of her column is to indict “the system” for not indicting the officer who shot Tamir Rice. With that intent, the description is a lie, a manipulative appeal to pure emotion that willfully and negligently makes the system, which is not and must not be based on emotion, incomprehensible.  Continue reading