Was the killing of Tamir Rice not enough? What about Michael Brown? Or Eric Garner. Or Akai Gurley. Or . . . wait a moment. While each of these stories bear common threads of death at the hands of police, each is worthy of its own, individual, independent examination. They may be similar, but each is different. Each involves one human being, its unique set of facts and circumstances, its specific cry for attention.
Too often, a post here about a specific case gives rise to someone who feels compelled to focus not on the content of the post, but all the others. There are always others. So many others.
The thing is, Conor Friedersdorf posted a whole slew of videos of cases like this that were equally as bad, and all of which seemed not to result in police officers being indicted. I’m also confused as to exactly why Michael Brown became the cause celebre as opposed to these cases with clearcut video (yet still, as you note, defended by a disturbing percentage of the population). It’s not as though in these cases with the clearcut video justice was done.
It seems like the more ambiguous and disputed the evidence, the more likely it is to be the one that becomes national news. There’s a partial exception for Randall Kerrick shooting the FAMU football player Jonathan Ferrell who was knocking on someone’s door for directions, but even that one seemed to go away quickly. (Granted, in that case he was fired and arraigned for manslaughter quickly, thanks to NC having no collective bargaining for police, but then it totally dropped off the media radar.)
Not to suggest that the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell isn’t important and worthy of attention, but this comment came on a post about 12-year-old Tamir Rice. “The thing is” that I chose to write, in that particular post, about one particular person, and it wasn’t Ferrell.
My response to such comments is sometimes one word, “focus.” Other times, it’s more verbose, though inadequate, to explain how raising other cases, many cases, a million other cases, not only fails to enhance a point, but actually undermines the point. Sure, there are other cases. There are always other cases, always other sympathetic victims, always people who one commenter or another will think more worthy of mention.
Why won’t you write about all of them? Why won’t you write about all of them every time? Why won’t you write about the one I think is most important?
By focusing on individual cases, individual human beings, it enables us to consider what happened in some small amount of depth. If we’re lucky, and I’m not totally off the rails, we can bring some small amount of sunlight to the situation, some illumination to how our wonderful world went so horribly wrong.
So when the cry from the cheap seats is, “look everybody, there’s something else shiny over there; go look, LOOK,” the only thing it accomplishes is to distract attention from one matter, the one that is the subject of a post and, for better or worse, is being offered for some depth, and diffuse attention with other situations. It spreads out focus over too broad an area, and nothing gets the attention it deserves. Quantity versus quality, or at least as much quality as I can muster.
More examples have their place, particularly when the reaction is the “one bad apple” argument. That would be an excellent place to note that the bushel is filled with bad apples, and a laundry list of examples to prove the point would not only be appropriate, but very persuasive.
When we’re trying to do more than a shallow survey of examples, however, adding more names to the mix doesn’t help. It hurts. In fact, it’s a threat to depth of thought, which is already hard enough to come by in this time when the attention span of gnats are viewed as something to aspire to. One of the best, yet worst, features of the internet is that we can access too much data, too much information, such that we can’t stick with any one bit long enough to make it matter. Focus. We’re losing it.
Worse still, we reach a point of saturation, where we become inured to tragedy because we’re exposed to it too often. One death is a tragedy. One hundred is a data set. We can work up enough outrage over the killing of one person to be moved to act, to have an epiphany that our police may not be nearly as good at protecting and serving as we want them to be. But when we’re deluged with names disconnected from any depth of knowledge or caring, it washes over us and we shrug.
Oh. Another black man who did nothing wrong killed by a cop. Pass the peas, please.
You may think that the quantity must be noted. You may think that another case, another human being, is more important or more worthy than the one I decided to write about. You are entitled to disagree with me. But not here, and not in a way that undermines whatever force my post is supposed to bring to my readers. This is my soapbox, and this is how and why I don’t applaud your efforts, even though you may think we’re fighting for the same cause.
If you do this, my reaction will be decidedly unpleasant. If you can’t stop yourself from doing this, then you can’t comment here. If you think I’m wrong about how I handle this and feel compelled to say so, do it elsewhere. Otherwise, focus.