Reporting while black
Does maintaining objectivity mean that a black man has to pretend to be unaffected by the police killings of black men?
I’ve come to the conclusion that my job is bad for my mental health.
That, as a Black man living in the United States, working in digital media and reading daily comments about how Americans truly despise people who look like me, is causing me to feel mentally ill.
I sat at my desk Monday holding back tears as I watched a video of Stephon Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, describing what she heard in her backyard as two Sacramento police officers shot at her unarmed grandson 20 times, killing him.
She stood at a podium in City Hall surrounded by family, lawyers and organizers. Tears poured from her eyes as she cried out for some form of justice in Clark’s death.
“And now my grandbabies don’t have their daddy,” she said, shaking in frustration. “Because they didn’t even—why didn’t they just shoot him in the arm? Shoot him in the leg. Send the dogs.”
I’m a digital producer for a local television station so, as I’m required to do, I clip the video and post it to Facebook. The comments come flooding in.
Some people offer their condolences. They’re unaware that Sacramento-area police have killed 16 people since 2016, so they wonder how something they see happening in Missouri and Baltimore and North Carolina can happen so close to home.
Others question why the two officers would nearly empty their clips, hurling bullets at a 22-year-old Black man who might have broken some windows.
But without fail, sitting there at the top, are comments berating a grief-stricken woman who lost her grandson to the people who took an oath to protect him.
“Maybe he should have been raised to respect officers and their authority,” one commenter wrote.
“He did this to himself!!! Now mama I feel you really do miss your son but to me your (sic) really going full force on this just to get money!!!” another commenter wrote.
And finally, “Shut up!! You aren’t even crying! I’m sorry you lost your loved one, but maybe if [he] wasn’t an idiot it wouldn’t have happened!”
I knew these comments would come. I knew it because every time a Black man or woman is killed by a police officer, people offer their unsolicited criticisms as if they know what it’s like to be a person of color living in a country that has historically hated your existence unless it could profit off your body.
These criticisms don’t just come from back-the-blue-flag-wearing conservatives, but also the people who call themselves progressive allies right up until the point they’re inconvenienced because a protest for Black lives is preventing them from getting into a Sacramento Kings game.
These are people who often have the convenience of not having to worry if their unarmed children will walk away from a police encounter because the color of their skin is not perceived as being a threat.
Stephon Clark did not have that convenience. Joseph Mann did not have that convenience. Dazion Flenaugh did not have that convenience. Mikel McIntyre did not have that convenience. I do not have that convenience.
There’s this idea in news media that you have to be impartial in order to be a good journalist.
So I sit at work everyday feeling increasingly depressed reading comments about how people believe that men who look like me deserved to die because they had a mental breakdown or their cellphone somehow resembled a gun.
I see people justify these deaths by saying, “If he would have complied,” knowing that I can’t tell them that Freddie Gray was in handcuffs when he was killed by officers who failed to safely place him in a police wagon.
I see people telling a suffering grandmother that she should’ve raised her grandson to respect people, knowing that I can’t tell them that Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when an officer killed him at a park less than five seconds after pulling up in a patrol car.
I can’t tell them these things, because, although the thought that I could have been Stephon Clark is rolling around in my head, I’ll cease being seen as objective the moment I offer my opinion.
So instead, I sit at my desk. I read the comments. And I wait to upload the next video.