South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager has been charged with murder after being caught on tape shooting unarmed 50 year-old Walter Scott eight times while his back was turned, and then planting evidence at the scene. 1 But prior to the release of that harrowing tape, if you’d read local coverage of the shooting in Charleston’sPost and Courier — South Carolina’s largest newspaper — you would have gotten a very different story.
Rather than fairly presenting both sides of a still-developing story, an article by reporter Andrew Knapp tries and convicts the victim, Walter Scott, by overemphasizing Michael Slager’s version of events, as well as Scott’s irrelevant criminal record. 2 All the while, it was Officer Slager who needed to be under the microscope.
The shooting death of Walter Scott — and the ensuing cover up — reflects a law enforcement community in disarray. In the past five years, South Carolina police have fired weapons at 209 people and not one officer has been convicted.3 This is a state in crisis; the last thing Black South Carolinians need is for the Post and Courier — the South’s oldest newspaper, with a circulation to over 90,000 people — to act as the public relations arm of police departments in dire need of very serious reforms.
Knapp’s piece exemplifies a media landscape that blindly trusts the word of law enforcement, inadequately examines police brutality cases, and stereotypically defines Black people by criminality. Research shows there are dire consequences for these reporting practices, including the fueling of a violent and racist culture of policing that endangers the lives of Black folks every day.4
Had that video not leaked, the media narrative likely would have never swung in Scott’s favor. Rather than keeping South Carolinians informed and holding accountable those in power, the Post and Courier's reporting assisted local police in disseminating false truths and protecting a murderer. They must own up to their biased reporting practices.
Tell the Post and Courier to issue a public apology for their initial coverage of the Walter Scott murder.
Knapp’s piece is rife with manipulative compositional strategies designed to sway the reader in Officer Slager’s favor. In fact, the article literally leads with Slager’s version of events.5 It is not until the end of the second paragraph that we learn that we are actually reading an account relayed to Knapp by Officer Slager’s attorney. Later, after emphasizing Slager’s title and accomplishments, Knapp finally mentions Walter Scott by name — followed immediately by his criminal record. No explicit mention, however, of Slager’s multiple accusations of police brutality.
As we continue to demand justice for Walter Scott — as well as dignity and safety for Black communities in South Carolina and nationwide — let’s also hold the media accountable for its lop-sided, biased reporting, and demand fair, humanizing coverage of Black victims of police violence.
The Post and Courier must issue an apology for Andrew Knapp's harmful article. Click here to let them hear your voice.
Thanks and Peace,
Arisha, Rashad, Matt, Brandi, Dallas and the rest of the ColorOfChange team
April 10, 2015
April 10, 2015