The Huge Problem With How the Media Is Talking About the Ferguson Police Shooting

The Huge Problem With How the Media Is Talking About the Ferguson Police Shooting

An unknown gunman shot two Ferguson police officers Wednesday night, amidst peaceful demonstrations following the announcement of police Chief Tom Jackson's resignation. No suspects have been identified, and much about what unfolded that evening remains a mystery.

Even with so little information available, the blame game is well underway.  

Leave it to Fox & Friends, America's most watched cable morning news program, to insinuate that the officers' shooting is the fault of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Last week, Holder said he was prepared to dismantle the police department in the Missouri city if reforms weren't implemented, after a damning report from the Department of Justice revealed the force's racist practices. 

Holder did nothing more than speak candidly about how policing in Ferguson needs to change, but on Thursday morning Fox released a video clip juxtaposing Holder's remarks with the initial response of St. Louis County police Chief Jon Belmar's to Wednesday's shooting. Belmar said, "These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers."

There's no way Holder should be at fault for Wednesday's shooting; he didn't pull the trigger. Nevertheless, Fox thought it appropriate to ask if the shooting was what Holder meant by dismantling Ferguson's police force:

This sentiment, though patently outrageous, exists well beyond conservative Fox News programs. As online observers noted, it had already made headway before the morning broadcast, during the hours immediately after the shooting. 

After his name and the hashtag #BlueLivesMatter trended on Twitter early Thursday, Holder denounced the incident. 

"This heinous assault on two brave law enforcement officers was inexcusable and repugnant. I condemn violence against any public safety officials in the strongest terms," he said in a statement.

Belmar also commented on the issue of blame Thursday morning, saying, "The responsibility of last night's shooting lies with whoever did that shooting," according to the Washington Post. "I want to be very clear about that. But it is a very difficult environment to work in."

This isn't the first time Fox News has landed in hot water after antagonizing both Democrats and the general public regarding issues of race or gender. But the idea that Holder's remarks, in addition to the DOJ's scathing rebuke of police and public officials in Ferguson, somehow directly incited Wednesday night's violence does more damage than simply displacing accountability from whomever actually shot the two officers. It unfairly blames leaders like Holder and DOJ officials for putting a necessary spotlight on systemic racism and using their institutional powers to push for lasting reforms in Ferguson. 

What's more, it allows a tragic moment, one that left two officers with serious injuries, to derail a broader, deeply important interrogation of how racism often permeates community policing — not just in Ferguson but in police departments across the country. 

That's where the focus really should be. But it's hard to find a solution if those who speak openly out about racism get blamed for acknowledging an everyday reality.