Real Concerns and the Headlines They Ultimately Create

I attended my condo association’s board meeting the other day, and a few things stood out to me in context to what’s going on in the news.

A police officer was there, and explained the current situation with the Beltsville police department. There used to be seven cops assigned to our area. Now there are three, and they’re working 12 hour shifts. These aren’t cutbacks – there are far fewer cops now to fill the spots of the ones who are retiring. Plus, the retirees can make very good pay in freelance security, so why stay on full time?

Despite all this, the officer encouraged folks to call the police when something doesn’t seem right in the neighborhood. He said the phone call could be one of a number of similar ones, which helps them address the issue and even allocate resources to a given area. The officer even said our court system often works against them. Everyday criminals keep getting released quickly because what they actually get pinned for is relatively minor, which allows them to commit more crimes (which they might get away with) until the next time they get caught.

The second issue that came to light was that there are some shady characters hanging out in my development at odd hours, and minor theft going on. Perhaps I’m lucky due to the location of my home on the property, as it certainly affects others more than me. Regardless, my neighbors who showed up to this meeting – most of whom were women of various ethnicities – were fairly adamant about having an armed security guard on our premises.

Few police officers and neighborhoods being threatened with shady characters and crime. Hmmm. From what I understand, this isn’t really unusual, at least in many areas… throughout the world.

But in the context of the U.S. news that makes it seem that police officers are running around shooting innocent people (which still may happen sometimes), the entire meeting seemed like what could be the beginning of how those incidents unfold. The board even discussed whether they could be held liable if the hired security had to shoot someone, and the shooting was found to be unjustified (not to mention the insurance nightmare). I even thought about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin killing, when a fed-up man self-policed his neighborhood due to multiple burglaries, only to end up shooting a kid who had nothing to do with it. As wrong as Zimmerman was, crime ultimately created the tension, and tension can lead to very bad consequences.

Yet, the headline isn’t: “Shady Characters and Crime Create Panic in a Neighborhood, Police Keep Getting Called.” The headline is, “Police Shoot a Guy Who Didn’t Have a Weapon.”

Journalists are more likely going to react to actual incidents, not simmering tensions. I get that. But¬†I can’t help but feel a number of reporters (and editors) continuously create incomplete – if not entirely false – narratives by focussing on the [understaffed, over-called] police officers and how they use their weapons [against people who are often doing something that gets the police called in the first place], plus agenda-driven data crunching, instead of the issues addressed at this condo association meeting. You know, the actual concerns of citizens.

To me, that’s irresponsible, lazy journalism.

The public is reading these out-of-context headlines and stories as though the police – not criminals – are society’s problem. Young folks suddenly don’t want to join the police force because of these headlines. Police districts find themselves majorly understaffed because of that. Criminals notice they can get away with more, and commit more crimes, putting communities on the edge. When communities are on the edge, more bad stuff happens.

Yes, that’s what’s happening. I wonder when the reporters will figure it out.