Headlines tell a story


It was the Washington Post METRO section last week- August 6th 2020 that caught my attention. Not because of one story but because in 8 pages, the stories that were chosen at random seemed to be all screaming the same story, even if that was not their intention. Editors place stories where they can fit them, and not as some sort of thematic puzzle. But when this random coverage starts to tell a larger story, one that speaks through the repetition, then there is cause to pause. The universe might be telling us something.

Page B1 leads with “DC OFFICER ACCUSED OF CHOKEHOLD INFRACTIONS.” The story relates the charges against a DC policeman in 2018 who repeatedly choked his suspects into submission, injuring them. He has been suspended but the charges have only been made now.

Right below that story is the headline, ” Md MAN CALLS OUT HIRING  OF OFFICER INVOLVED IN 2013 DEATH.” That story was even more disturbing. Three police officers had choked a person with Down’s Syndrome to death in a movie theater in Frederick MD and his offense was that he had not bought a ticket to stay and see the same movie again. The headline pointed out that the police force hired one of them former policeman to conduct background checks. The three had not been charged and they had all been cleared of misconduct. Not buying a movie ticket it seems in Frederick is a capital offense.  That was just Page one. Two alarming stories of police violence that went unpunished or ignored until now.

Turn the page and B2  has Kaitlin Mettler report for the District on a story headlined ” NORTON DEMANDS ANSWERS ON ARMED DETENTION OF BLACK MOMS. Two young Moms were taking their kids on a hot day to splash in the fountain at the WWII memorial when police cars jammed their car to the curb, dragged the women from their car and handcuffed them on the ground.  The scene was videotaped and the incident is alarming. The explanation offered was that the police mistook the car for a stolen vehicle. And the official report said, “the occupants were briefly detained” and the welfare of everyone was a priority. You only have to watch the tape and see what dissumulation was going on in the police report.

So, by some quirk of editing, we have a policeman choking people in DC, three policeman killing a Down’s Syndrome adult in Frederick, and one of them being rehired, and now, DC Federal police harassing two mothers and their babies on the excuse that the car might have been stolen. Not bad in two pages of the METRO section. Surely we can get some other news of the day. We survive page 3 with POLICE UNION SUES DC OVER EMPLOYMENT LAW the DC police union suing DC Police for making it easier for the Chief of Police to discipline officers for misconduct. Apparently, the Union forces disciplined police to be rehired. Then page 4, we read the secnd half of the first two stories.  So, enough already. But no, Page B5 will not relent.

SENATORS KEEP PRESSING FOR DETAILS IN PARK POLCICE SLAYING OF BIJAN GHAISAR writes Tom Jackman in the VIrginia beat. Ghaisar was an unarmed motorist shot by two US Park Police with ten bullets as he slowly drove his Jeep Cherokee away from the officers. The incident happened in 2017 but no one has been charged, and the Park Police are refusing to release any information or report, even to the family. And to add to the outrage, the officers offered no first aid to Ghaisar who died in hospital 10 days later of head wounds.

By the time we get to page 6, it is a relief to read the obituary of the amazing Pete Hamill. But by that point, METRO inadvertently reads as an indictment of police culture, whether it be DC police, MC police, Park Police or Federal police. Mothers, people with Down’s Syndrome, normal citizens under scrutiny and motorists confused on the road. None of them were bank robbers or terrorists or sex traffickers. And inserted in between is the story of the Police Union suing DC police to stop the Chief’s efforts to make them more accountable.

When this random layout of stories creates such a pattern, you can either out it down to pure coincidence- like when the obituary page features two people named Mary, or when three stories all talk about the hot weather. But five stories in five pages about police preying on citizens and being absolved, rehired or never held to account, you would have to say that something is going on here, and it is not good news.

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