This morning, Politico put out this tweet:
Police shoot man near Ferguson on anniversary of Michael Brown killing http://t.co/ZepdGgGMM8
— POLITICO (@politico) August 10, 2015
Variations on this headline have been popping up on Twitter and on assorted news websites all day. The BBC: “Michael Brown anniversary: Man shot at Ferguson protest.” The New York Times: “Ferguson Braces for Tense Day After Man Is Shot by Police.” The Washington Post: “Police shoot and critically injure man during Ferguson protests; state of emergency declared.” Yahoo: “Police shoot man near Ferguson anniversary protest.”
This, I’m afraid, is how myths are made. If one saw only this construction on the story — and most people read only headlines, not full reports — one could be forgiven for presuming that the incident was similar to the one that kicked off the protests in the first instance. Likewise, one could reasonably presume from this wording that the man had been unarmed, or even that the police just went and shot a protestor. Indeed, many people online seem to have done just that. Congratulations, Politico! You got people to click!
And what does the Politico piece say beneath the headline? This:
A day of otherwise peaceful protesting in Ferguson and neighboring communities marking the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown was broken late Sunday when a black 18-year-old man was shot by plainclothes St. Louis County detectives after he allegedly opened fire on them, according to reports.
“After he allegedly opened fire on them.”
On Twitter, it is being repeated over and over again that the suspect is eighteen, that he is black, and that he knows Michael Brown. Okay, but none of that seems particularly relevant. What is relevant? That he opened fire on a cop. If there one thing that we can presumably agree on, it is that if you shoot at somebody they have the right to shoot back. This guy could have been a Nobel Peace Prize winner as far as I care. You fire a gun at somebody, they’re going to fire back. Shouldn’t that information be part of the headline?
CNN has more details:
A man who police say was shot after unleashing a “remarkable amount of gunfire” on officers during Sunday’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, now faces charges as he remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
Prosecutors have charged Tyrone Harris, 18, of St. Louis with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action and one count of discharging a firearm at a motor vehicle, St. Louis County Police Department spokesman Sgt. Brian Schellman said.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said earlier that Harris used a stolen handgun to fire at officers.
Harris is being held on a $250,000 bond, Schellman said.
After the embarrassing disaster that was the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme, one would have thought the press would have been more careful when reporting shootings in sensitive areas. One would have been wrong.