AS DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIA RISES, POLICE MISCONDUCT SOARS

In early October, a pregnant black woman was tossed around like a rag doll and nearly crushed under the knees of a violent Kansas City Police officer. When I read about the ordeal, I was gripped by waves of despair. I also had a flashback.

Between 1994 and 1996, I worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star newspaper. Back then, KC was sort of a small, quaint town and some of the police officers reminded me of the bumbling-yet-cocky Barney Fife from Mayberry. One of those overzealous cops stopped me one night because my license plate was positioned in my back window instead of its proper place above the rear bumper. As the officer flashed his piercing light directly into my eyes, I tried to explain I had just moved to the city and was still in the process of adjusting and tying up loose ends. He was unmoved. Instead of listening, he proceeded to focus his flashlight on the seats of my Toyota and conduct a quick search.

Meanwhile, I nervously pulled out my license and he happened to notice my Kansas City Star ID card with the bold letters REPORTER. His hands literally shook, and his tone changed. Suddenly, everything was okay, and I was given permission to keep driving. Of course, I arrived at home that night a bit shaken and confused.

When word about the incident made it back to my assignment editor at the paper, Evie Rapport, and the executive editor, Art Brisbane, they were visibly flabbergasted. There was even talk of them visiting the station or writing a letter to the Kansas City Police. This was the third time I’d experienced their harassment. I moved back to Detroit before it could happen a fourth time.

I wish the pregnant woman had been that lucky. You see, when I lived in that part of the Midwest, the region was best known for widespread pastures and an abundance of beautiful, summer fountains. The community was fairly low key, and police misconduct was rare or hush hush. If something drastic occurred within their ranks, every reporter I know would have been eager to expose it. In those not so long-ago days, the Kansas City Star was king. No one questioned it. No one maligned it. It was the go-to news source on Sunday and most days of the week.

That attitude extended beyond the rolling prairies of Kansas. Across the country, newspapers had tremendous clout and nearly everyone perceived them as purveyors of truth. That heralded status was enough to force at least one surly cop to leave me be and, if it existed today, would have been enough to protect that terrified woman and her unborn child.

But sadly, the Trump administration’s “fake news” propaganda has done irreparable damage. Since his election, he has lambasted every media outlet that has reported on his misconduct – from small tabloids to major metropolitan dailies, including the revered New York Times. No publication is safe from his constant onslaught of allegations and the outcry of his misinformed base.

That along with the dominance of the internet has drowned out viable journalistic voices and diluted their ability to champion just causes, monitor fraud, and act as Big Brother at the first sign of corruption. It appears that the pen is no longer mightier than the sword and the press is no longer viewed as the nation’s conscience.

Without a conscience, what do we have left? A soulless climate of hatred that has taken the lives of Jonathan Price, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McCain, Philando Casteel, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and so many more unarmed black people who died at the hands of the police. This week an evil version of the incompetent Barney Fife waded into that climate and brutalized a helpless, pregnant woman on a dark Kansas City street.

As I pray for her, I realize that could have been me.

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