Manipulating the built-in narrative of a police shooting

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

When Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, used the term “alternative facts,” all of her political opponents accused her of “doublespeak.” In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” “doublespeak” was derived from two other Orwellian terms “newspeak” and “doublethink.” “Newspeak” was the method of controlling thought through language and “doublethink” merged two contradictory thoughts. Therefore, “doublespeak” made falsehoods sound truthful.

Of course, Orwellian language can be dismissed as science fiction, but when specific groups decide to “manipulate the narrative” it can produce an Orwellian effect. By definition a narrative is a way of presenting a situation that promotes a particular point of view or set of values. Police shootings, specifically, when a White police officer kills an unarmed Black male, has a built-in narrative that indicts the White officer of racial animus before any official report of the shooting is released. This built-in narrative is rooted in America’s history of racial injustice and abhorrent community/police relations in Black neighborhoods. This poor relationship produced its own narrative that states: Police protect and serve White communities, but police patrol and control Black ones. After a police shooting it doesn’t occur to the believers of the built-in narrative that their reaction can easily be manipulated. (This happened in Ferguson with the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot narrative.)

Recently, rioting and looting broke out in Chicago, but it wasn’t a continuation of outrage over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. The violence was in response to another police shooting. The Chicago Police Department’s preliminary statement on the police-involved shooting said: On Sunday, August 9, 2020, at approximately 2:30 p.m. in the 5700 block of S. Racine Ave. in the 7th District, Officers responded to the call of a person with a gun and observed a male suspect who matched a description given, and attempted to confront him in a nearby alley. The offender then fled from officers and during the foot pursuit, produced a firearm and fired shots at the officers. Officers then discharged their firearms, striking the offender. The offender’s firearm was recovered on the scene. The offender was transported to the University of Chicago Hospital in an unknown condition. Three officers involved in the incident were transported to a nearby hospital for observation.

The incident described in the police report didn’t warrant the built-in response from the Black community because the suspect wasn’t unarmed. Since 2015 the Washington Post has kept a police shooting database and it has revealed deadly encounters between the police and suspects with firearms are so frequent that police shootings of unarmed suspects are anomalies, and it’s the anomalies that received the built-in response from the Black community. So, what started the riot? Immediately after the shooting the narrative that circulated on social media and throughout Black neighborhoods was that the police gunned down a child.

It might be a stretch to claim that manipulating the narrative is equivalent to Orwellian language, but this incident in Chicago does fit the criteria for “alternative facts.”

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