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Al Martinez

Don't Like Bad News? Blame the Messenger

July 18, 2002|Al Martinez

At last, someone to blame for the shootings, beatings, kickings, chokings, slammings and other forms of violence perpetrated by police officers on handcuffed, unconscious, sleeping or dead persons in their custody. It's the media's fault.

For years I have pondered over who exactly to accuse when cops, their tempers triggered by race, testicle squeezing or various forms of "silent insolence," go on a rampage. Now I know.

Since the most recent slamming/beating/choking by a policeman, it has been pointed out by media critics that if we just hadn't, you know, mentioned it, there'd be no big fuss. The trouble is, as my mother used to say, we can't leave well enough alone.

I am speaking here, of course, about Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse, a fun-loving, devout Christian, who did unto 16-year-old Donovan Jackson what he wouldn't have liked being done unto him. What complicated matters is that portions of the beating were videotaped by 27-year-old Mitchell Crooks, who, incidentally, instead of being kept around to answer questions, was hustled off to a cell in Placer County for alleged crimes.

While the current to-do is partially his fault for videotaping the beating in the first place, he's an amateur and didn't know that he should have instantly turned off his camera when he saw Morse slam the kid onto the hood of the car. But the majority of the blame for stirring things up lies with us--the professional media--and today I want to apologize on behalf of us all for causing such distress among those within earshot. Or eyeshot. Whatever. It was my fault.

The media's insistence on butting in where they aren't wanted has been pointed out to me over and over again in the wake of Officer Morse's display of curbside justice. E-mailers and telephone callers, in angry references to "you guys," flayed not only what they perceived to be our sensationalistic tendencies, but also our annoying attention to details of the incident and to our insidious delving into the background of the Inglewood Police Department, which is proving to be something less than a center of gentility.

Television was taken to task for simply showing Crooks' video in the first place, intruding, as it did, on otherwise serene summer days. Show more good news, critics carped: kids splashing in the surf and half-naked women at the beach and maybe baseball players beating each other senseless in the name of sport.

I have, alas, no control over television and therefore do not feel compelled to fully apologize for its faults. However, I do agree that the public would be better served with shows exploring the first sexual experiences of young men and women (due out soon) rather than clips of unpleasant news events.

And on top of everything else, why in God's name, I hear you shout, do we keep pointing out that the 16-year-old kid was black and Morse was white? Are we trying to imply, for heaven's sake, that some cops are racist?

But there I go again, as Ronald Reagan used to say, stirring things up by suggesting that some cops just don't like people who don't look or speak the way they do. There I go again, suggesting that those cops--the racist ones--might take every opportunity afforded them to display their dislike in a variety of convenient ways.

This could vary, as we have seen before, from a finger-shaking no-no to a bullet in the heart. In terms of well-publicized police violence, the name Rodney King, of course, instantly comes to mind--the case of another darned video-taker not minding his own business while the cops were attending to theirs.

But at least King walked away. Others haven't been so lucky. Margaret Mitchell, barely 5 feet tall and weighing only slightly more than 100 pounds, was shot to death by a cop because she threatened him with a screwdriver. And Tyisha Miller was shot 12 times by four Riverside policemen, because, sitting half-drugged in her car, she appeared to reach for a gun when they smashed in her window.

The media raised a fuss about them too, I'm sorry to say, and I guess I've got to apologize retroactively for our unacceptable behavior in reporting the details of those, er, incidents and causing so much strife. We should have left them alone. We shouldn't have bothered.

And, hey, while I'm at it, I'd like to apologize on the media's behalf for a lot of other annoyances we've had the bad taste to mention. Like: wars, holocausts, the spread of AIDS, corporate greed, disgraced politicians and God knows how many acts of criminal stupidity. There'll be no more of that. Like the messenger who was killed because he brought the king bad news, we've learned our lesson. It's happy talk from now on. Close your eyes and cover your ears, and let the good times roll.

*

Al Martinez's columns appear Mondays and Thursdays. He's at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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