Digest news responsibly — warning contains opinions

Many of the problems our country faces seem to stem from polarization and a refusal to be responsible consumers of news.

Maybe all news pieces should contain clear warning labels like the one in this headline. Something along the lines of a parental advisory to warn the unwitting public if something is true news, news sprinkled with opinion or straight-up opinion.

Nah, that would be a violation of what the First Amendment is all about, so it should be avoided. Even if the lines between opinion and news are blurred lets just hope common sense prevails.

Rather than relying on the latest meme to hit Facebook newsfeeds about guns, police or race, or the latest story a friend of your friend’s cousin posted from that conservative or liberal news blog, try picking up a newspaper, or reading a story online from something like the Associated Press, Reuters or BBC, and slowly allowing the words to sink in.

Analyze what has happened, what has been said, and follow the story as it progresses. Realize that the reporters bringing you the news are humans too, and sometimes they make mistakes, especially in the rush in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

Lets take the very recent events we’ve seen plastered everywhere regarding police and race relations.

Police officers have a very difficult job to do. They deal with people who suffer from mental illness, have substance abuse problems and are at their lowest points before a call comes in for help. Police are needed and should be respected. We all rely on them to answer when we are at our lowest points and in need of assistance.

Stop in at your local police department and read some of your local police reports. Even the smallest towns present challenges for officers — they never know who is behind the door they have to knock on for that call that came in about someone getting violent.

However the time has come to realize that there are some very serious issues with the way police departments across the nation are being operated. There are organizational inefficiencies from the top down that are causing abuses within the system.

Those inefficiencies need to be addressed. Unfortunately the fact that two New York police officers were recently murdered by a mentally deranged man does not stop the need for those changes to occur.

The horrendous way in which those men died does not stop the instances we are seeing of police overstepping their authority, crossing the lines of their sworn duty to protect and serve the public and justifying use of extreme force as acceptable simply because they wear a uniform.

We can’t erase the instances of the man who was choked to death on a New York City sidewalk for selling loose cigarettes, the man who was shot multiple times for stealing a box of cigars in Ferguson and possibly attempting to fight an officer, the killing by police of the man with Down’s Syndrome for refusing to leave a movie theater in Maryland or the swift shooting of a little boy playing with a toy gun in Cleveland.

Those deaths happened as we all know. But the difference between those deaths and the deaths of the police officers in New York, is that they were carried out by the people who are supposed to be the good guys.

Police work in stressful situations and tread among some of the vilest human beings imaginable. A friend of mine who is a Cleveland cop once told me he chased a drug dealer through backyards for what seemed like hours.

The drug dealer ran to what was a known crack and heroin house. When police entered they found multiple paralyzed and disabled people in wheelchairs but no crack or heroin. But the drugs were there —  drug dealers had been hiding them in the rectums of the disabled and paralyzed people.

Seeing such people and places has to change a cop. I’d guess it would be easy for cynicism to set in and to distrust everyone.

But it simply is not up for debate that not all police officers are racist scumbags out to trample on rights. Police do encounter awful situations day in and day out, and we can’t always blame them for becoming hardened and resorting to treating everyone from the soccer mom to the drug dealer with the same level of apprehension.

In their mind such apprehensions about the people they are interacting with serve as a defense mechanism which help the officers with the hope that they too will get home safely at the end of the day.

But maybe police need more training and education to enter such a stressing job. Maybe more counseling and resources needs to be available for officers so they can adequately handle the stresses they face. We hear of veterans with PTSD but I’m sure police encounter the same obstacles after witnessing violence and criminal activity for years.

It’s also not up for debate that not all protesters are looters. Such arguments are simplistic, as simplistic as labeling all police racists, and these arguments highlight the very polarization that plagues portions of our society and causes an inability to read or digest news rationally. Would we rather people just sit back and take no interest in current events and police agencies and practices that might need an overhaul?

The Federal Department of Justice recently concluded an investigation and found numerous deficiencies including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community within the Cleveland Police Department.

Are we to forget such reports just because of the tragic deaths of two police officers in New York? If we do that would be another tragedy and a disservice to the police who have died.

Protesters should not be blamed for exacerbating problems. They have every right to protest and should not be limited from doing so.

The way in which police interact with protesters is another area of concern. Take Ferguson as an example. What happens when police show up at rallies in jack boots and use tear gas on demonstrators? Quite simply, chaos happens, and hostility toward authority is only exacerbated and justified among protesters.

Even though the Department of Justice found problems within the Cleveland Police Department they have handled recent protests admirably. Even when protesters have blocked intersections or freeways they have not resorted to use of force.

The police chief himself has been out in the thick of it talking with protesters and he deserves credit for that.

And as for the media — they are not to blame for the events we see happening. They report on the deaths of civilians at the hands of police and they report on the deaths of police at the hands of civilians.

Social unrest has always been with us. There was never a magical time when police were respected by everyone and they only drew their weapons when absolutely necessary.

Drop in at your local library, grab some microfilm and peruse your local newspapers over the past decades or even century. You’ll see just as much violence and mayhem happened then as happens now and the newsman’s job has always been to tell the public about it.

We just get the news faster now and have less time to digest it. Add to that the ability to post stories or memes online that are intended to provoke a certain emotional outrage among the viewer rather that allowing them to formulate their own opinion and polarization multiplies.

Some have argued that if people obey all laws and orders of a police officer they won’t wind up in a circumstance where they’ll be killed. That is true to some degree — if you steal from a store, run and provoke a police officer you might wind up injured or dead when that officer decides to use force.

But what about if you steal, run and don’t provoke the police. Do you deserve to die? What if you hesitate because you don’t understand an officer’s orders? Do you deserve to be shot or beaten? If you’re a kid from a bad area and playing with a toy gun should shots be fired before questions are asked?

Deep down we know the answers to these questions even if we won’t admit it. They are questions that have been raised in light of current events and they need answers. If it is too difficult to see then don’t look.

But the messengers or those asking the questions shouldn’t be pegged as criminal sympathizers and cop haters, just as much as labeling those whose job it is to protect and serve as racist killers should be avoided.

3 thoughts on “Digest news responsibly — warning contains opinions

  1. Larry

    Well stated Jon. It’s the trend, I.e the speed of news that imo is a key factor in how the world processes information now. It’s not the reality it’s the perception !

  2. ST Kelly

    The news is coming at us from every angel at the speed of megabits that we just can’t digest it all, so we read the headline and react before it’d gone. God help us if we don’t leave our comments for all to see how informed we think we are.

    We need to look past the sensational, and think for ourselves.
    Keep on keeping on Jon!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours

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