I’m sure it will surprise nobody that readers have wanted to talk quite a bit about the case of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. in August.
The problem is that very few of the many observations I’ve gathered have really concerned how The Kansas City Star has covered the case.
A few readers criticized the paper for publishing a story on the front page Nov. 26 about its staff photographer Jill Toyoshiba’s arrest while covering a related protest on the Country Club Plaza. Police detained her for stepping out into the street.
“I don't think that even the ACLU would consider this a front-page story,” wrote one emailer. “There’s no freedom of the press issue here. She admits she was in the street but did not hear the warnings.”
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I’m not sure everyone would agree that press freedom is a nonissue in this case, though I also see no evidence law enforcement was targeting Toyoshiba to keep her from taking photos. But I do think criticism that the story was overplayed is a point worth considering.
Readers have offered several good recommendations for follow-up topics. More than one has told me the grand jury process is a mystery to many Americans, and they think an in-depth explanation would be educational.
I’ve conveyed suggestions for a profile of the Ferguson community before the shooting, and for a truth-check on the many false claims made in the media and circulated online.
However, the vast majority of readers I’ve spoken to have essentially urged The Star to focus on certain aspects of the deadly incident to reinforce the “side” that reinforces their personal opinions.
Those who believe Wilson was purely at fault have wanted The Star to stress witness accounts that contradict the officer’s version of events. And Wilson supporters ask for more coverage of the testimony that supports the grand jury’s decision not to indict him.
And I’ve also heard some wild ideas. One emailer suggested that the media should simply quit covering cases such as this because they cause so much upset in the public.
Another said it’s wrong to refer to Brown as “unarmed” as his entire body should have been considered a weapon because of his size.
This is not serious, adult commentary. This is the stuff of talk radio and the darkest corners of Internet comments threads, where hyperbole always seems to rule the day.
Grand juries’ decisions not to indict police officers in Ferguson and in the case of Eric Garner, who died after a New York policeman placed him in a chokehold, generated real, undeniable news. The many large protests — both peaceful and violent — that they spurred are similarly newsworthy.
There are also legitimate issues of public policy that these events snap into focus. For example, Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black, while its police force is almost entirely white. It’s an undeniable part of the equation.