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Running Head: TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM

Tautological Nature of Racism; Analyzing the Role of Written Media in the

Perpetuation of Racism

Juanita Vivas Bastidas

Loras College

2017

Faculty Advisors:

Professor Lisa Garoutte


563-588-7022

Professor Kathrin A. Parks


563-588-7819

Winner of the Manford Kuhn award.


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 1

Abstract

In an era when Black Americans daily struggles with racism are called into question by

the rest of American society, my project aims to investigate the legitimacy of their claims.

Drawing on the methodology of Ida B. Wells, this projects goal is to confront those who believe

racism in American society is long gone with news articles written, distributed and accepted in

2015 that show otherwise. Grounded in contemporary theoretical perspectives such as

intersectionality and critical race theory, this article hypothesizes there is a strong existing link

between racial biases and police officers excessive use of force. Data collected through a

qualitative content analysis of news articles about African Americans shot by police officers

support this claim by revealing patterns of depersonalization of victims, perpetuation of racial

stereotypes, and mass medias influence on a societys understanding of race and equality.

Keywords: police brutality; excessive use of force; racism; mass media; public opinion.

Introduction

Understanding the ways knowledge and public opinion are socially constructed, affect

and are affected by the society that has constructed them, Ida B. Wells focused her career in

bringing to light the unequal control over the dissemination of information American society had.

According to Wells, racism and the lynching of Black Americans was systematically perpetuated

mainly by the white control of communication. Wells claimed, they [Whites] write the reports

which justify lynching by painting the negro as black as possible, and those reports are accepted

by the press associations and the world without question or investigation. (Wells 1893/1991). To

prove this, Wells designed a study that analyzed the way in which lynching reports produced by
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 2

the Chicago Tribune were constructed and the effect the coverage of these stories by the white

press had on the general publics understanding of racism and lynching.

Drawing on the methodology of Ida B. Wells, this projects goal is to confront those who

believe racism in American society is long gone with news articles written and distributed by

those in power that show otherwise. The hypothesis of this study states that not only are there

distinct patterns in who is being victimized by police officers and why, but also that there are

distinct patterns in the language and conceptualization related to police brutality in American

society.

Due to the existence of racism in American society, news articles related to police

brutality events are more likely to a) portray victims of police brutality negatively; b) portray

police officers who engaged in acts of excessive use of force positively; c) word alleged crimes

committed by victims as atrocious acts; d) word actions taken by police officers as justifiable.

Taking into account that police brutality events have been legitimated through the use of

racial stereotypes, it only makes sense that the media would use these symbolic frames in their

discussion of the excessive use of force from police officers to a specific segment of the

American population. Accordingly, an analysis of the portrayal of these violent attacks in the

local and state level media is important because it aids the understanding of how people are

being informed about police brutality events and how these concepts are being socially

constructed.

Review of Literature
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 3

Police brutality experienced by Black men and women in America is not a new

phenomenon. As a matter of fact, scholars claim examples of this excessive use of force by

police officers against Black Americans can be dated back to at least the years when lynching

started (Nelson 2000:11). Consistent with these claims in a more recent context, McElvain and

Kposowa (2008) find that in studies from the 1960s through the 1980s, minorities were

disproportionately targeted by police officers. This situation might prompt one to question why it

is only now that police brutality has become a national point of discussion. This article claims

that it is with the advance in digital technology that allowed crimes to be captured and publicized

in a matter of seconds, and the creation of social movements such as Black Lives Matter that it

became impossible for American Society to deny any longer the existence of this form of

violence and evidence of racism.

Racism and Excessive Use of Force

To begin this exploration, it is crucial to define key terms such as racism. Jones (2016)

suggests racism needs to be understood as a system of structuring opportunity and assigning

value based on so-called race (p. 1717). Pursuing this further, in her article Jones points out as

well that racism is only getting stronger and more ingrained in the American society with the

daily interactions we have with each otherinteractions that end up forcing and warning young

black men to act in specific ways in order to be accepted.

Jones claim that racism is a system that assigns different value to humans is supported by

numerous researchers that have studied this issue in relation to police officers use of excessive

force. For instance, Smith and Holmes (2014) corroborate Jones claim, arguing that even though
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 4

diverse theoretical perspectives agree that the preservation of social order demands the use of

coercive mechanisms of control against internal law violators who challenge existing social

arrangements, there seems to be evidence that these mechanisms are being employed by police

officers differently against certain segments of the population perceived as special threats to the

social order (p. 83). Pursuing this further, Smith and Holmes find as well that parallel to those of

the larger society, police stereotypes of racial minority citizens also link the expectation of

violent criminality with the concept of race (p. 87).

Similarly to Smith and Holmes, Chaney and Robertson (2013) offer more supportive

evidence of the existing prejudice towards the African American community. Their study

involved analysis of the statistical findings of the National Police Misconduct Statistics and

Reporting Project and contributors comments, tracing recurrent themes within the narratives. In

their study, Chaney and Robertson identify indications that most Whites believe that Blacks are

disproportionately inclined to engage in criminal behavior and accordingly should be identified

as a special threat to the social order (p. 484).

Finally, Greenwald, Oakes, and Hoffman (2003) also show evidence of the existence of

racial biases today. They conducted two simulation experiments where subjects were asked to

play the role of police ocers taking rapid action in response to three categories of simulated

targets: criminals, fellow police ocers, and citizens. In both of these experiments, subjects had

the option of responding in two different ways, either by pointing and shooting at criminals

(pointing and left-clicking the computer mouse) or by responding to a designated safety signal to

fellow police ocers (pressing the spacebar). Additionally, subjects were instructed to make no

response to citizens who were distinguishable from the other two targets as they were holding

harmless objects rather than guns (p. 401). These scholars found that [the] race of a target can
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 5

affect both individuals perceptual ability to discriminate a weapon from a harmless object and

bias to respond as if a weapon is present (p. 405). In other words, Greenwald, Oakes, and

Hoffmans study suggests that race is a factor in determining the profile of people who are

perceived as threats.

Exploring the Profiles of Individuals Targeted For Victimization

Taking into consideration findings that indicate racism is present in everyday interactions

between individuals in American society, scholars have hypothesized that racial biases can

predict which groups are more likely to be victims of police brutality. Accordingly, the average

profile of individuals targeted for victimization has become a popular topic of study. The

majority of findings point out that there is a significant relation between race, class, and gender

and an individuals chance of being targeted for victimization. Multiple mechanisms have been

employed to support this. For instance, Ross (2015) conducted a multi-level Bayesian analysis

that estimated the county-level risk ratios of being shot by police as a function of an individuals

status (suspect/non-suspect, Black/Hispanic/White, armed/unarmed). Ross concludes that

individuals victimized by police officers have a higher median probability of being unarmed

black individuals than being armed white individuals after finding the probability of being

(black, unarmed and shot by the police) is about 3.49 times the probability of being (white,

unarmed/armed, and shot by the police) (p. 1).

Similarly, Greenwald, Oakes, and Hoffman (2003) also find a significant relationship

between race and an individuals chance of being targeted for victimization. They conclude that

subjects had greater difficulty distinguishing weapons from harmless objects when the weapons
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 6

were in the hands of simulated Blacks than Whites and subjects were response-biased in the

sense of giving the weapon-appropriate response more readily to Black than White targets (p.

403). The essence of Greenwald, Oakes, and Hoffmans argument is that even though individuals

are not likely to acknowledge having racial prejudices, when put in situations where there is little

to no time to process, their responses show otherwise.

Furthermore, Jones (2016) indicates there is a significant relation between race and

gender and an individuals chance of being targeted for victimization, as well. Jones explains this

through a personal narrative where she reveals feelings of sadness at the capricious, senseless,

unwarranted killing by the police of another Black man, stating that it appears many police

officers, especially White police officers, fear for their lives in the presence of Black men (p.

1717). Chaney and Robertsons (2013) conclusions mentioned above also provide support to

Jones claims: Black boys and men are disproportionately subject to excessive and sometimes

deadly police force (p. 481).

On top of the already mentioned demographic characteristics visible to police officers

when assessing a situation, there are also behavioral characteristics of the victims that are worth

noting. McElvain and Kposowa (2008) point out that resistant behavior characteristics are often

seen in individuals who perceived themselves in positions of subordination. This, after

discovering a pattern of resistance from individuals living in lower socioeconomic

neighborhoods (areas characteristically comprised of people of color) who feel overly controlled

and constantly reminded of their subordination as greater numbers of officers are assigned to

patrol them (p. 508). Including McElvain and Kposowa findings about patterns in the behavioral

characteristics of the victims is important because it brings to light a vicious cycle that develops

out of perceptions both parties have about each other.


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 7

Exploring Profiles of Victimizers

Just as scholars have investigated profiles of individuals targeted for victimization, they

have also conducted studies to find patterns in the characteristics of victimizers. Findings over

time and from scholars in different disciplines seem to agree there are indeed very specific

existing patterns when it comes to victimizers. However, when it comes to the question of what

those specific characteristics are, there is no agreement. One the one hand, some researchers

claim existing patterns in the characteristics of the victimizers are their race/ethnicity. One the

other hand, other scholars reject that hypothesis and state that even though race is related to the

incident, it is not an officers race that determines the likelihood of this officer to engage in an

excessive use of force.

Jones (2016), for instance, emphasizes race is indeed significant and important to

analyze, claiming that many White police officers fear for their lives in the presence of Black

men (p. 1717). Similarly, Ross (2016) finds evidence that there is racial bias in police

shootings that is not explainable as a response to local-level crime-rates and is related to either

racial bias in police encountering suspects/civilians, or racial bias by police in the use of force

upon encountering suspects/civilians (p. 14). Additionally, McElvain and Kposowa (2008) find

as well that race/ethnicity is a strong determinant of officer-involved shootings. In their study,

McElvain and Kposowa find that White officers were more likely to become involved in

shooting incidents than their Hispanic counterparts. Interestingly, McElvain and Kposowa (2008)

also discover that male officers are more likely to employ deadly force than female officers.

These studies all agree that the race of police officers does play an important role in the way they

engage in a situation.
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 8

In contrast to these studies, Paoline and Terrill (2007) state that the likelihood of an

officer to use excessive force is more related to his/her level of education, and age rather than

race. Paoline and Terrill find that officers with a bachelors degree are less likely to use physical

force than officers with only high school education (p. 191). Furthermore, they find as well that

incidents in which officers engage in verbal and/or physical force are inversely related to the

officers age and experience. In other words, older and more experienced a police officer is, the

less likely it is for him/her to employ verbal and/or physical force. This study shows that not only

race but also variables such as education and age contribute to likelihood of police officers

engaging in violence.

In agreement with Paoline and Terrill, Geller and Karales (1981) state that the

race/ethnicity of officers was not a determining factor that could explain this behavior. However,

their findings point out that Black officers are disproportionately likely to shoot civilians

largely because many Black American officers tend to reside in ethnic neighborhoods and are

more likely to become involved in an off-duty shooting than are White officers, based on the

increased crime rate where they live (p. 507). These findings have been challenged by scholars

such as McElvain and Kposowa (2008) who attribute these inconsistencies to regional

differences.

Exploring Institutional Factors

Along with existing prejudice towards the African American community, the way police

officers are trained appears to also be part of the cycle perpetuating racism and the use of

excessive force against Black Americans. According to Smith and Holmes (2014), even though
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there are diverse perspectives that agree the preservation of social order requires the use of

coercive mechanisms of control against internal law violators, there seems to be evidence that

these mechanisms are being used by police officers differently against certain groups of the

population associated with threats to the social order (p. 83). This discovery might prompt one to

question who police officers are being trained to identify as special threats to the social order.

Several scholars who have attempted to answer this question suggest looking at societys

dominant ideology as a starting point. In American society, the dominant ideology dictates that

White, middle-class, heterosexual males and their opinions are more valued. Accordingly,

revising how these individuals understand themselves and society may help clarify who it is that

American society identifies as a threat. Chaney and Robertson (2013) find that most Whites

believe that Blacks are disproportionately more inclined to engage in criminal behavior and

should be identified accordingly as special threats to a societys social order (p. 484). One could

argue, then, that police officers are being socialized and trained to understand African Americans

as special threats regardless of the situation and to view the use of excessive force as normal and

essential for handling these citizens.

Similarly to these scholars, McElvain and Kposowa (2008) agree that an important

component to study when analyzing police brutality events is the police institution itself.

McElvain and Kposowa state that another reason for racial biases to be linked with the likelihood

of police officers using deadly force may be police deployment practices. Considering that it is

very common for police departments to deploy officers in greater numbers to areas where higher

volume of calls are received for services or crimes of violence, McElvain and Kposowa conclude

it is important to analyze how the deployment practices of this institution might be affecting the
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 10

likelihood of officers to engage in excessive use of force that might even end with civilians being

shot and killed.

Similarly to McElvain and Kposowas claim that there is an important component of this

issue related to police institutions policies and mechanisms, Onyemaobim (2016) states that the

criminal justice institutions policies and mechanisms have to be consider as well. In his

research, Onyemaobim (2016) argues the existence of what he calls courtroom biases referring

to the existing trend in courtrooms of weighting police officers testimonies in trials prosecuting

minorities or police brutality investigations more heavily than those coming from the defendants

side. In these cases, police officers are considered expert witnesses. Similarly to Onyemaobims

findings, Chaney and Robertson (2015) also discuss courtroom biases in their research

mentioning that since most juries are made up of Whites, there is more likelihood that even when

members of law enforcement are on trial, members of the jury will share many of the same

attitudes about Blacks that police generally have (p. 60).

Having police testimonies that end up dictating the outcome of the case disregarding

fault or liabilities is what causes the second to last variable of this formula: unpunished

malpractices. Chaney and Robertson (2015), for instance, support this idea by quoting an

analysis based on public records and interviews with law enforcement and legal experts that The

Washington Post and Bowling Green State University conducted where it was discovered that

out of thousands of fatal police shootings, officers were only charged 54 times since 2005 (p.

53). Similarly, Onyemaobim (2016) also supports this claim concluding from his findings that it

seems that in American society police officers are placed above the law (p. 166). Regardless of

what they are accused of, there is a pattern of excuses that free them from the consequences of

their unlawful actions.


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 11

Exploring Mass Media

In the modern era, mass media has become the primary source of information for most

people. As a result, whatever events media outlets decide to cover and the way they do so,

influence societys understanding of what deserves attention and what does not. Best (2013)

states that not only mass media but also social media tends to shape the way social problems are

understood by the larger society. As a matter of fact, Best claims that news reporting is a social

construction of reality produced by news workers who operate under various constraints. Some

of the constraints Best refers to are economic (cost to collect and produce news), while others are

cultural (what people are more interested in). Best argues this dynamic, although naturally

beneficial, can become problematic when media coverage is corrupted. In the hopes of

alleviating economic constraints by receiving money from different parties, it is common that

media outlets manipulate stories to protect vested interests. Desmond, Papachristos, and Kirk

(2016) agree with this theory as they argue that media is not only responsible for raising

awareness of episodes of police violence but also is responsible for truthfully addressing basic

questions about such episodes (p. 872). As a result, the way media portrays the event, is the way

most people come to understand it and deal with it.

Gonzalez and Torres (2011) offer an example of Bests theory about corruption in mass

media. In their book News for All the People, Gonzalez and Torres analyze how the forms of

disseminating information in American society have had a trend of benefitting specific segments

of the overall population. Through a historical recount of who the groups that have controlled

communication in the United States have been, they argue that whites have always controlled

newspapers, television, and radio; fact that has played a crucial role in the perpetuation of racism
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 12

among the general American population. Gonzalez and Torres state They [whites] did so by

routinely portraying non-white minorities as threats to white society and by reinforcing racial

ignorance, group hatred, and discriminatory government policies (p. 2). This describing how the

dominant group has had enough power over mass media to socially construct minorities as

monsters whites should fear by exploiting and creating negative stereotypes.

Ida B. Wells and Her Theory from the Standpoint of the Oppressed

American classical sociologist Ida B. Wells offers a theory applicable to police brutality.

Ida B. Wells theorizes that domination is a system of oppression and privilege that follows a

multifaceted pattern. She argues that a societys history, ideology, material resources, manners,

and passion are the factors that can cause difference and power to interact pathologically and

thus result in domination. Wells understands history as the context in which domination is

happening; ideology as the shared criteria of division and distinction that legitimizes the

ideological portrayal of the subordinate as Other through the distort[ion] and exaggerate[ion]

[of] selected differences between people (166); material resources as the unequal access

different segments of the American population have to the basic means of production and the

effects this disproportional distribution has; manners as the way individuals in a society do

race; and, finally, passion as the emotions that drive people to encourage the existence of

domination.

Ida B. Wells theory is applicable to police brutality events because it describes its

origins while at the same time explaining its prevalence. Firstly, her recognition of history as a

factor participating in the creation of domination is supported by researchers argument that


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 13

police brutality in the United States is not a new phenomenon and how an early example of it

can be found in the form of lynching (Nelson, 11). Pursuing this further, Wells description of the

role a societys ideology plays in the perpetuation of discrimination is evidenced in Chaney and

Robertsons (2013) conclusions that whites tend to excuse police brutality against Blacks

because of the racial animus that they hold against Blacks and their assumption that Blacks are

deserving of harsh treatment in the criminal justice system (481). Similarly, her theoretical

discovery of how the disproportionate distribution of material resources affects discrimination is

supported by Chaney and Robertsons finding that because Whites, as a group, have greater

control over the criminal justice system, there is more likelihood that even when members of law

enforcement are on trial, members of this entity will share many of the same attitudes about

Blacks that police generally have (60). Wells consideration of manners as the way individuals

do race in a society is evidenced in Onyemaobims statement fatality at the hands of police

brutality has become so prevalent in today's society that one could argue it has become a societal

norm (158). Finally, her inclusion of passion as a factor affecting domination is revisited by

Smith and Holmes when stating that the mobilization of coercive controls by police helps

preserve existing social arrangement that benefit the dominant group (101). This to say that the

dominant groups fear of losing the benefits already acquired is what fuels their tolerance of

social control mechanisms like police brutality.

Data and Methodology

For the purpose of this research, 25 cases from a list created by the British national daily

newspaper The Guardian of Black U.S. Americans, armed or unarmed, of any age, of any state,

of any gender shot and killed by the U.S. police. The method used to choose these 25 cases was
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 14

systematic sampling. That to say, having in mind the desired sample size (25) and the size of The

Guardians list (307), an nth number was selected (12). Accordingly, every 12 th element in the

frame was selected.

Given that the goal of this study is to analyze the relationship media has with racism and

police brutality, 50 news articles that talked about these 25 cases were chosen as well. The

method of selecting these was much simpler. By name, all 25 cases were searched on Google.

The 2 first articles that appeared from the search were pre-selected for the study. After skimming

through those pre-selected articles and making sure the information was coherent with the

previous one found at The Guardian list, three were changed. A new final list of news articles

from different news outlets (i.e. The Charlotte Observer/ the East Bay Times) around the country

was completed. Considering that reporters, police officers, bystanders, and the public naturally

have personal biases, it is necessary for this analysis to acknowledge the possibility of these

reports being polluted and maybe not reflective of what actually occurred during the police

brutality event.

With all this information a SPSS Database was created. This database will be helpful

because it will facilitate a qualitative analysis of trends and frequencies in the way media outlets

are talking about police brutality. Moreover, it will also allow an examination of my

hypothesized existing relationship between existing racism in American society and media

coverage of police brutality events. This will be a purely qualitative analysis that allows for the

emergence of different themes and patterns regarding the way American society is socially

constructing police brutality and racism. This decision was made as it is believed that a

qualitative analysis that brings to light the frequency at which some themes come up in the
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 15

framing of police brutality events through the use of examples demonstrates best the power mass

media has on how individuals in a society understand their surroundings.

To proportionate an overview of the final sample, some relevant demographic

characteristics of it will be discussed. Firstly, all cases analyzed in this study are Black

Americans. However, it is important to note that a review of the complete list created by The

Guardian exposes the disproportionate victimization of Black Americans by police officers.

According to The Guardian, in 2015 24 Asians/Pacific Islanders, 307 Black Americans, 195

Hispanic/Latinos, 13 Native Americans, 584 Whites, and 23 Other/Unknown were victims of

police brutality. Taking into account, however, that Black Americans make up only 12.2% 1 of the

total American population, a concerning disproportion exists. When looking at these same

numbers in proportion to each races percentage in American population, it is found that, per

million, 1.34 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 7.69 Black Americans, 3.45 Hispanic/Latino, 5.49 Native

American, 2.95 White were victims of police brutality.

Pursuing this further, from the 25 cases chosen randomly through the systematic

sampling methodology, 23 were males and only 2 were females. This finding is found not to be

an error when compared to the complete list created by The Guardian. According to The

Guardian, in 2015 12 black women were victims of police brutality whereas in the same year

295 black men were victims of police officers excessive use of force. Moreover, from the 25

cases chosen, 16 of them were armed during the event, 5 were not armed and 4 were reported as

other. Those reported as other represent the cases in which the victim had unconventional type of

arms such as a metal bicycle chain, a non-lethal firearm (BB gun), or a vehicle. Finally, from the

1 This according to the Population of the United States by Race and Hispanic/Latino Origin, Census 2000
and 2010.
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 16

25 cases, according to The Guardians project The Counted, 10 of them are still under

investigation, 11 of them were ruled justified, and 2 are unknown. Pursuing this further, only in 1

case was the officer reprimanded, and only in another case was the officer charged with crime.

The process of coding the fifty reports focuses on the emergence of different themes.

Firstly, it focuses on feelings of approval or disapproval by the reporter, bystanders, police

officers, and the public to the police brutality event. Meaning, the report is coded as Pro-Police

Excessive Use of Force, if it demonstrates agreeing with the excessive use of force from the

police officer and/or finding it justifiable given the alleged crime committed by the victim.

Likewise, the report is coded as Anti-Police Excessive Use of Force, if it demonstrates

disagreement with the excessive use of force from the police officer and/or finding it

unjustifiable despite the alleged crime committed by the victim.

During this process the portrayal of the victim and the police officer in the report is also

carefully examined. In this case, the portrayal is coded as positive if the report refers to the

victim/police officer by name, if it references positive traits of the victim/police officer related to

his/her life before the event (personality, education, community participation, career, and family),

and if it does not exploit racial stereotypes to frame the story. Similarly, the portrayal is coded as

negative if the report does not refer to the victim/police officer by name, if it only references

negative traits of the victim/police officer related to his/her life before the event (previous arrests,

previous engage in excessive use of force).

Finally, the last theme that is analyzed during the coding process of these news articles

deals with its discussion of race. This last theme is divided in two different subthemes. One

being the use of racial descriptors through the report. Meaning using labels such as Black man/

White man to describe the police brutality victim and/or the police officer. The second being
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 17

the use of racist descriptors through the report. That to say, a report is coded as using racist

descriptors if it is racially charged and/or if stereotypical language is used to describe the police

brutality victim and/or the police officer. The coding scheme and sheet can be found in the

Appendix.

Analysis

Pro-Police Excessive Use of Force

Frequency of Statements Supporting Police Excessive Use of Force in News Articles

Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent


Yes 17 34.0 34.0
No 33 66.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, 17 were found to have statements that supported police excessive

use of force from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general public. 33

articles were found to have no supportive statements of the excessive use of force. All articles in

which statements demonstrate finding the use of excessive force justifiable given the alleged

crime committed by the victim were coded as supportive. Similarly, all articles in which

bystanders instigated the killing of the victim were also coded as supportive. Statements that

exemplify best this theme are as follow:

- In a video posted on Facebook by a witness, one woman was repeatedly

shouting, Yall just killed that man! Others nearby were pointing at police
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 18

and taunting them. - Star Tribune staff writers, Paul Walsh and Libor Jany,

regarding the killing of Jamar Clark (24 year-old Black male).


- The officer was wearing a body camera, and police officials have reviewed

the footage, Whent said. It looked very, very dangerous, he said. - Oakland

police, Chief Sean Whent, to East Bay Times regarding the killing of Yonas

Alehegne (30 year-old Black male).


- The actions of the Freeport Police Department were justified, necessary and

saved the lives of innocent citizens, District Attorney Jeri Yenne in a written

statement regarding the killing of Ronald Sneed (32 year-old Black male).

Anti-Police Excessive Use of Force

Frequency of Statements Opposing Police Excessive Use of Force in News Articles

Frequency Percentage Cumulative Percentage


Yes 14 28.0 28.0
No 36 72.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, 14 were found to have statements that opposed police

excessive use of force from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general public.

36 articles were found to have no opposition statements of the excessive use of force. All articles

in which statements demonstrate finding the use of excessive force unjustifiable were coded as

opposing. Similarly, all articles in which bystanders describe the killing of the victim as an

assassination, cold blood murder, or execution were also coded as opposing. Statements that

exemplify best this theme are as follow:


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 19

- I dont think what he did was worth his life being taken, just by knowing him

personally, - Nearby resident Rebecca Ellis to KGO-TV Channel 7 regarding

the killing of Yonas Alehegne (30 year-old Black male).


- This morning while at the bus stop in Boston, my youngest brother Usaama

Rahim was waiting for the bus to go to his job. He was confronted by three

Boston Police officers and subsequently shot in the back three times. He was

on his cell phone with my dear father during the confrontation needing a

witness. His last words to my father who heard the shots were: I cant

breathe! Rahims brother Ibrahim Rahim post on Facebook regarding the

killing of Usaama Rahim (26 year-old Black male).


- "My son, he was a person and not a dog they shot him down four times in

the head. That, to me, that was assassination by the police." Sneeds mother,

Sarah Sneed Bass, to abc13 regarding the killing of Ronald Sneed (32 year-

old Black male).

Police Brutality Victim Portrayed Negatively

Frequency of Police Brutality Victims Being Negatively Portrayed in News Articles

Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent


Yes 30 60.0 60.0
No 20 40.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, 30 were found to have statements portraying police

brutality victims negatively from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general

public. 20 articles were found to have no statements following this pattern. All articles in which

the victim is referred to as suspect, criminal, subject, fugitive, or gunman, were coded
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 20

as portraying the victim negatively. Similarly, articles in which little to no background

information related to the victims life before the event is given were coded as negatively

portraying the victim as well. Finally, articles in which there is a reference to previous arrests,

felonies, minor crimes unrelated to the event but committed by the victim were also coded as

negative. Statements that exemplify best this theme are as follow:

- A Kentucky state trooper slain by Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks, of north

St. Louis County, had been trying to arrange lodging for the killers family

before a traffic stop turned violent, officials said Monday. Saint Louis Post-

Dispatch staff writers regarding the killing of Joseph Johnson-Shanks (25

year-old Black male).


- Carr has a history of criminal activity in the Charlotte area. His criminal

history includes convictions of worthless checks and forgery. He has also been

charged in Charlotte with assault with a deadly weapon with intent kill and

more charges of forgery. He was also wanted on federal charges, but details of

that case were unclear. - SBI spokeswoman Audria Bridges to Gaston

Gazette regarding the killing of Ronnie Carr (51 year-old Black male).

Police Brutality Victim Portrayed Positively

Frequency of Police Brutality Victims Being Positively Portrayed in News Articles

Frequency Percentage Cumulative Percentage


Yes 11 22.0 22.0
No 39 78.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 21

From the 50 articles analyzed, 11 were found to have statements portraying police

brutality victims positively from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general

public. 39 articles were found to have no statements following this pattern. All articles in which

the police brutality victim is referred to by name were coded as positive portrayals given that

they humanized the victim. Pursuing this further, all articles in which the victim is described in

favorable terms or in which background information related to positive personality, education,

community participation, career, and family is discussed were also coded as positively portraying

the victim. Statements that exemplify best this theme are as follow:

- He was a really big hugger. Every morning he would just go around

everybody and make sure everyone was okay and he would be like, Hey! I

love you- Glens friend Shane Brigham to KTLA regarding the killing of

Brendon Glen (29 year-old Black male).


- Hes a really good guy, but now hes gone. Im pissed because we never

called the cops on him. Neighbor Diane Watkins to East Bay Times

regarding the killing of Yonas Alehegne (30 year-old Black male).

Police Officer Portrayed Negatively

Frequency of Police Officers Being Negatively Portrayed in News Articles


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 22

Frequency Percentage Cumulative Percentage


Yes 14 28.0 28.0
No 36 72.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, 14 were found to have statements portraying police

officers negatively from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general public. 36

articles were found to have no statements following this pattern. All articles in which the police

officer is described disapprovingly were coded as negatively portraying the officer. Similarly, all

articles in which police officers response or their narrative of the event was called into question

by either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general public were also coded as

negative. Finally, articles in which no background information related to the officers life is given

were coded as negative portrayals as well. Statements that exemplify best this theme are as

follow:

- An ambulance was called after the suspect and his girlfriend got into an

argument. While paramedics were taking the girlfriend away, the suspect tried

to talk to her. Sharp said thats when he [victim] was handcuffed and then

shot. Neighbor and bystander Nekelia Sharp to Star Tribune regarding the

killing of Jamar Clark (24 year-old Black male).


- She [victim] was running from them [police officers], Franklin said. I hear

a report saying they tasered her first. I didn't see any of that. All I saw was a

person running down the alley towards my car - Witness Courtyana Franklin

to nbc Los Angeles regarding the killing of Redel Jones (30 year-old Black

female).
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 23

Police Officer(s) Portrayed Positively

Frequency of Police Officer(s) Involved Being Positively Portrayed in News Articles

Frequency Percentage Cumulative Percentage


Yes 24 48.0 48.0
No 26 52.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, 24 were found to have statements portraying police

officers positively from either bystanders, the police force, the reporter, or the general public. 26

articles were found to have no statements following this pattern. All articles in which the police

officer is described in favorable terms or in which background information related to positive

personality, education, community participation, career, and family is discussed were coded as

positively portraying the officer. Statements that exemplify best this theme are as follow:

- He was very proud to be a Kentucky State Trooper, Thomas said. He was

new, he was eager and just absolutely loved his job. State police

spokesman Trooper Jay Thomas to the Courier Journal regarding the killing of

Joseph Johnson-Shanks (25 year-old Black male).


- Police acted quickly; they acted heroically - New Orleans Mayor Mitch

Landrieu at news conference regarding the killing of Richard White (63 year-

old Black male).


- The officer was so shaken, he was in tears in the parking lot after the

shooting. Witness to Richmond Times-Dispatch regarding the killing of

Paterson Brown Jr. (18 year-old Black male)


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 24

Racial Descriptors

Frequency of Racial Descriptors in News Articles

Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent


Yes 3 6.0 6.0
No 47 94.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 articles analyzed, only 3 of them used racial descriptors to frame the story.

Some examples of how these were used are as follow:

- Beck said of the incident in Venice: Even if race is a small part of this,

which I dont think it is, theyre certainly outweighed by the mental health

issues, the homeless issues, the alcohol issues. All of those things have
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 25

nothing to do with a persons race. - LAPD chief Charlie Beck to The

Guardian regarding the killing of Brendon Glenn (29 year-old Black male).
- witnessed a Minneapolis cop shoot a black man they had pinned down

Witness Teto Wilson to The Guardian regarding the killing of Jamar Clark (24

year-old Black male).


- Police did not identify the man, but Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the

Minneapolis NAACP, said in a statement that he was Jamar Clark, a black

man in his mid-20s, and that he had been shot and killed by police. - Star

Tribune staff writers Paul Walsh and Libor Jany regarding the killing of Jamar

Clark (24 year-old Black male).

Racist Descriptors

From the 50 articles analyzed, not one of them utilized racist descriptors to frame the

story. No racially charged and/or stereotypical language was used to describe the police brutality

victim and/or the police officer. Nevertheless, racist descriptors were found on the comment

section of some of the news websites. Even though this study does not include a thorough

analysis of the general publics reactions or comments, some examples will be provided.

- One less Obama supporter, one less menace to society/ Good! Another fool

off our streets! Comments in reaction to the killing of Paterson Brown Jr.

(18 year-old Black male).


- Great job Officer Ramirez. Glad to see you are back on full-duty and that the

LAPD didnt try to appease the cop-hating anarchistic thugs of Black Lives

Matter who only get upset when a black thug/criminal gets justifiably shot by
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 26

the cops and ignores the massive epidemic of black-on-black murders

Comment in reaction to the killing of Redel Jones (30 year-old Black female).

Title Biases

Title Biases Frequencies

Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent

Yes 39 78.0 78.0


No 11 22.0 100.0
Total 50 100.0

From the 50 cases analyzed, 39 were found to have biased titles, while only 11 were

found to have objective titles. All titles in which the event was mis-framed, mis-constructed, and

or exaggerated were coded as biased; titles in which there was no reference to the human nature

of the victim were coded as biased as well. Titles in which the victim, without any context, was

labeled as fugitive, suspect, attacker were also coded as biased. Finally, titles in which,

through the use of specific words, the police officer was not made responsible for his/her actions

were also coded as biased. Some examples of those titles which were coded as biased are as

follow:
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 27

Pattern Example
Dehumanization 1 Shot and Killed by Officers After Gaston

County Chase

Gory Vocabulary used Harrisburg Man Killed by Police Told

Woman He Would Leave Her Brains

Splattered All Over: Criminal Complaint

Overly positive portrayal of police Fallen KY. State Trooper Loved His Job

Excessive use of force justified Officers Justified to Use Lethal Force

Agent using excessive force not being Suspect Dies after Multi-State, Multi-County

hold responsible Chase and Hostage Situation

On the other hand, some examples of those titles that were found not to be biased are as follow:

Pattern Example
Objective reference to events Camden Man Dead in Police Shooting

Minneapolis Man Shot in Altercation with

Police Dies in Hospital

Man Dies after Police Involved Shooting in

Lauderhill

Discussion and Conclusions


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 28

From the 50 articles analyzed, several themes emerged. Regarding the frequency of

statements supporting or opposing police brutality events, less than 35% of the articles

demonstrated a strong stance in either direction. Only 17 articles were found to have statements

in which the event was clearly supported; and only 14 were found to have statements in which

the event was clearly condemned. A reasoning for this might be the relevance of this topic in

American society. Given that, to this day, racism and its connection to police brutality are

debated topics, news outlets might decide to censure or dilute, at least, comments that show

support or opposition to these. This, with the purpose of maintaining the audience and the

numbers they represent constant.

Regarding the portrayal of both victims and police officers, important patterns emerged

as well. As expected, police brutality victims are more likely to be portrayed negatively in news

articles covering stories that narrate police brutality events. As a matter of fact, from the 50

articles analyzed, 60% followed this pattern. An explanation to this might come from Ida B.

Wells theory. American society all through history has been characterized by having a system of

domination; a system in which oppression and privilege are patterned by five factors: history,

ideology, material resources, manners, and passion. Whites, threaten by the possibility of losing

the privileged status this system has given them, have decided to directly/indirectly continue

being the oppressors. Accordingly, they utilized all resources available to do so. Communication,

as theorized by Wells since a long time ago, is a master tool to achieve that goal. By routinely

portraying non-white minorities as threats to white society, whites can keep the oppression

justifiable and the status quo unharmed. In Wells words they [Whites] write the reports

which justify lynching by painting the negro as black as possible, and those reports are accepted
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 29

by the press associations and the world without question or investigation. (Wells 1893/1991).

Same goal is obtained by portraying the police officers as positively as possible. From the 50

articles analyzed, little under 50% portrayed police officers positively. By calling officers who

have murdered civilians sometimes even unarmed heroes, the American society is having the

metaphor Blacks are evil Blacks are villains reinforced.

The almost inexistent use of racial descriptors can be seen as another strategy to obtain

the same goal. If people do not link these events to the racial animus and the existent oppression

of minorities in American society, the pattern and the big picture becomes invisible. All these 50

cases of excessive use of force from police officers towards Black Americans (and the 307 in

total) just become separate events that have nothing in common; 307 events in which random

individuals committed crimes that deserved death penalties. Same happens with the inexistent

use of racist descriptors. This gives the impression of a color-blind society. Which is proven to

be false as the reader analyses the comment sections of the articles (part uncensored).

All taken into account, it is safe to say that the hypothesis of this study was correct. Due

to the existence of racism in American society, news articles related to police brutality events are

more likely to a) portray victims of police brutality negatively; b) portray police officers who

engaged in acts of excessive use of force positively; c) word alleged crimes committed by

victims as atrocious acts; d) word actions taken by police officers as justifiable.

Feelings of hopeless are an understatement. What these results demonstrate is that the

system of domination called racism in America has adapted to times. Meaning, now that people

are starting to question its validity, it masks itself to survive. Media outlets, police officers,

bystanders, and the general public itself do all in their hands to disconnect as much as possible

police brutality from racism. Accordingly, Americans are given the false idea that racism is over;
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 30

which makes the framing of racism and police brutality as social problems harder; which makes

racism a vicious cycle that is born and gives birth to more racism; which allows racism to

become a tautology.

Limitations

As in any other study, there were several limitations in the analysis of this project. The

two main that come to mind are the methodology used to gather the articles that ended up being

part of the study and the possible I might have had when coding them.

Firstly, since Google was used to gather all articles, it is only necessary to mention the

way in which google prioritizes its users searches. Google uses algorithms that sort pages by

their content. These algorithms are constantly changing trying to keep results relevant.

Accordingly, it could have happened that the articles I found were articles that have received

more views but not necessarily random ones. This, however, might work because it gives this

study a better understanding of the type of articles that are read most frequently.

Related to the methodology, as well, the findings of this study might have been limited by

my personal biases. Even though, the coding scheme was created with the purpose of avoiding

these, a second or even a third observer could have made this study more reliable.

Appendix

Coding Scheme

Code Definition Source of Code

Pro-Police Excessive News report and/or public demonstrate Bystanders


Use of Force agreeing with the excessive use of force Police Force
from the police officer and/or finding it Public*
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 31

justifiable given the alleged crime Reporter


committed by the victim.

Anti-Police Excessive News report and/or public demonstrate Bystanders


Use of Force disagreement with the excessive use of Police Force
force from the police officer and/or finding Public*
it unjustifiable despite the alleged crime Reporter
committed by the victim.

Police Brutality The police brutality victim is referred to as Bystanders


Victim Portrayed suspect, criminal, subject, fugitive, Reporter
Negatively or gunman, for example. He/she is
described disapprovingly. Small
background information related to the
victims life before the event is given, most
likely related to previous arrests.

Police Brutality The police brutality victim is referred to by Bystanders


Victim Portrayed name. He/she is described in favorable Public*
Positively terms. Background information related to Reporter
positive personality, education, community
participation, career, and family is
discussed.

Police Officer The police officer is described Bystanders


Portrayed Negatively disapprovingly. No background Reporter
information related to the officers life is
given.

Police Officer The police officer who engaged in Bystanders


Portrayed Positively excessive use of force is described in Police Force
favorable terms such as hero, Reporter
authority. Background information
related to positive personality traits,
education, community participation, career,
and family is discussed. Does not imply
responsibility for the murder to the police
officer.

Racial Descriptors Racial descriptions such as black man are Bystanders


used to describe the police brutality victim Police Force
and/or the police officer. Reporter

Racist Descriptors Racially charged and/or stereotypical Bystanders


TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 32

language is used to describe the police Police Force


brutality victim and/or the police officer. Reporter

The title does not accurately reflects what


Title Biases happened. It does not refer to the human Reporter
nature of the victim (1 shot and killed). It
frames the alleged crimes of the victim as
atrocious acts that justified the killing of
the victim.

Coding Sheet

Coding Sheet for Articles Related to Police Brutality in the United States, 2015

Coders Initials: ________________________ Date Coded: _______________________


Source: Newspaper________________________________________________________
Title of the Article
___________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________
URL
______________________________________________________________
Date (mm-dd-yyyy)
__________________________________________________

Short description of Police Brutality event ___________________________________________


______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Where did the event happen? (City/State) ___________________________________________
Date (mm-dd-yyyy)
______________________________________________________________
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 33

Alleged crime committed by Police Brutality Victim: ___________________________________


______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Was Police Brutality Victim armed?
_________________________________________________
What type of arm was Police Brutality Victim carrying?
_________________________________
Approx. Time frame between Police Officer first arrived to the scene and when Police Officer
first discharged weapon? _________________________________________________________

Police Brutality Victim: Race ________________________ Age _______ Sex


___________
Name (s)
____________________________________________________

Is there any other information about the victim available to the public? ___________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

Police Officer: Race ________________________ Age _______ Sex


___________
Name (s) ____________________________________________________
Is there any other information about the Police Officer available to the public? ______________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

Reporter: Race ________________________ Age _______ Sex


___________
Name (s) ____________________________________________________
Does the title of the article follow any pattern? If so, describe ___________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 34

Does the article seem to be biased in any way? If so, describe ___________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
What terms/phrases were used by the reporter to describe the Police Brutality victim?
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
What terms/phrases were used by the reporter to describe the Police Officer?
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Were there any comments made by the public about the event where the article was found? If so,
describe the terms/phrases ____________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Were there any comments made by the public about the Police Brutality victim where the article
was found? If so, describe the terms/phrases ___________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Were there any comments made by the public about the Police Officer where the article was
found? If so, describe the terms/phrases ____________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Other Information:
TAUTOLOGICAL NATURE OF RACISM 35

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