Local Media Slant
Inform us or push our buttons?
We are molded by the perspective that we more or less passively consume. Much of what we “know” we know through the eyes and the filters of the reporters, pundits, and commentators who present us “news”. News and commentary manipulates our emotions—and our voting patterns.
Few of us follow the actions of the Washington State legislature closely enough to have a clear picture of laws passed this session with the intention of reining in police excesses. The discussions in the legislature were in the wake of a series of documented police killings of unarmed citizens, including a young, unarmed mentally ill acquaintance of mine shot dead by one of Sheriff Knezovich’s deputies in Spokane Valley.
Recently, several articles have appeared in local Spokane media concerning the resultant changes in state law that are about to go into effect. The slant of some of this reporting is deplorable.
One of my readers saw this posted on NextDoor. It was titled by the person who posted it "People get ready".
SPOKANE, Wash. — Thirteen laws passed during the 2021 legislative session will directly affect law enforcement, when a majority of them go into effect on July 25.
Across the state, concerns are already being raised by local police departments because of their impact on public safety.
For example, military equipment of weapons 50 caliber or greater cannot be used, eliminating current shotguns and the less lethal beanbag shotguns used in situations of de-escalation.
Tear gas, which was used during the protests, can only be used for barricades, a hostage situation, or for riots outside a correctional facility. However, before law enforcement can use it, they have to get permission from the highest jurisdiction. For local police departments, this will mean the mayor.
911 calls relating to domestic violence and mental health will not be responded to, unless certain conditions are met. Also, police pursuits are now limited.
“The new policy that impacts the entire state only allows pursuits for a handful of violent crimes, and you have to have probable cause that the person who committed the crime is in that vehicle,” said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl. “Reform to me means that something is broken, to me. I don’t think, that majority of law enforcement in Washington State is broken. I think what we need to do, and what we are obligated to do, is constantly evolve.”
Spokane Police Department has already been putting these laws into effect. While Chief Meidl understands the reasoning behind the laws, he’s also concerned.
“I do feel like, based on the language of the bills that were passed and will become law on July 25th, I think this has gone too far, and I think this is going to create dangerous communities,” Chief Meidl said.
Liberty Lake Police Chief Damon Simmons has been keeping a close eye on these bills that were passed. He believes, some of these laws directly contradict their police oath.
“We in law enforcement are going to experience the inability to protect the public in the matter that which we’ve been sworn to do so,” Chief Simmons said. “It actually sickens me to think that people are going to call 9-1-1 and ask for assistance and they’re not going to get it.”
Liberty Lake Police Department will be discussing these new laws and how they will affect the community during their city council meeting on July 20th. The meeting will be available on Zoom.
The post was followed by more than thirty outraged comments, including the usual one’s about the “liberals are coming for your guns”.
Googling the first line of the post takes one back to its source, KXLY.com, where at least the article’s title was a little less inflammatory: “New police reform laws raise concerns for local police departments.”
This KXLY presentation is worthy in its bias of a Fox News, a Sean Hannity, or the Epoch Times. The author, Rania Kaur, offers not a hint of the reason the laws were passed by the state legislature, no detail on the rest of the content of the laws, or any voice to the legislators who wrote and passed the new laws. She presents only the opinion of certain members of law enforcement, people who, being human too, are not likely to be in favor of any law that poses limits on their actions.
The Spokesman’s Emma Epperly and Sydney Brown in their later article, “As police-reform laws go into effect, sheriffs and activists disagree on their effectiveness”at least offered a voice from among those who wrote, debated, and passed the legislation:
Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, the co-sponsor of several police reform bills that passed the Legislature this year, said he wanted these laws to increase police accountability and address historic racial bias against communities more likely to be on the receiving end of police violence.
Better still, Epperly and Brown offer a glimpse at the process by which laws are interpreted, rolled out, and applied:
The Washington state attorney general will give a formal opinion about parts of the law both police and lawmakers agreed were unclear, Johnson said. These concerns include a ban on .50 caliber weapons and new standards for whether officers can take someone to a treatment center during mental health calls.
“As long as they understand our legislative intent … that will help clear up those questions,” Johnson said.
Even with that acknowledgement of legislative intent and interpretation of details, the Spokesman article starts with:
A group of 20 sheriffs and police chiefs expressed concern at a news conference Thursday about police reform legislation they say will hurt their ability to do their job, while community activists and families affected by police violence say this should only be the start of accountability.
The leaders of law enforcement agencies from across Eastern and Central Washington said during the press conference at CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley that the legislation will hinder their ability to respond to mental health and domestic violence calls.
This lead-in to the article inevitably feeds the confirmation bias of “law and order” Republicans, many of whom harbor an abiding distrust of government in general. A press conference does not occur by accident. A press conference is a soapbox designed to present a narrative to the press. Epperly and Brown write as if this press conference materialized out of thin air. Who organized it? Who paid for it? Who chose CenterPlace in painfully conservative Spokane Valley as the venue? What do the assembled eastern Washington police chiefs and sheriffs mean to accomplish with this grandstand? Do they wish to instill fear, worry, and distrust of state government as a political statement? Whatever their intent of this press conference, for the casual reader both these articles fan division and stir fear rather than consider the value of the making of laws and the rule of law in helping to solve society’s problems.
Read and listen to the news. Consider its emotional effect. Ask what the coverage leaves out. Complain. Write letters to the editor. Otherwise the media lead us around by the nose…
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. An article in the July 23rd Spokesman, “Hundreds of new Washington laws go into effect on Sunday covering areas from police accountability to wildfires to education” by Laurel Demkovich offers better context for the legislative actions the assembled eastern Washington police chiefs and sheriffs were complaining about from their press conference soapbox.