The Brooklyn district attorney announced Friday that the shooting of Akai Gurley, who was killed in a public housing stairwell by an rookie NYC cop, would be considered by a grand jury. It is one more case in a growing list of scrutinized police killings: Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island and Tamir Rice’s shooting in Cleveland. The two most recent cases to gain headlines, the shootings of Rice and Gurley, happened within two days of each other.
Police killings of unarmed black men is no new phenomenon, obviously, but with the death of Michael Brown and ensuing unrest in Ferguson, the media has focused attention to police brutality and law enforcement's institutionalized racism. And the closer that organizations look at the issue, the more they discover: A Wall Street Journal analysis found that between 2007 and 2012, at least 550 police killings went uncounted in federal statistics.
The media coverage of police brutality has been an important public service, giving voice to victims and forcing change. But, as everyone who watched the coverage of disappeared flight MH370 knows, media attention to specific issues is almost always fleeting. The plane remains undiscovered. The protestors go home. Akai Gurley will be buried.
On this issue, the media must do everything it can not to lose interest. We have only scratched the surface of problems exposed by these killings. Gurley, for instance, was shot by a scared police officer in a dark public housing stairwell. Do police officers need better training before being dispatched into such situations? The police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice had a record of “emotional immaturity” and a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training.” Should police hiring procedures be more stringent?
White police officers' shooting unarmed black men should not be a news trend but, like the plight of undocumented immigrants, a persistent national story. If racism and brutality are hallmarks of American policing, then reporting these issues becomes a hallmark of American journalism. Don't stop shining that light.