As I walk down the street and spot a police officer, I suddenly try to act as normal as possible and get nervous, fearing the officer will stop me just for being suspicious. Many of my fears of the police stem from their portrayal by the media as strict by the book enforcers and brutal abusers of force. While law enforcement receives such a negative image that is not always true, they serve a vital role in our community.
As a nation, we elect to have laws that govern the limits to our behavior. However, if these laws are unenforced, they are ineffective. As a method to deter crime, we create punishments that individuals risk if they violate a law. Part of a policeman’s job involves such enforcement of the law they may issue a penalty such as a ticket to someone that runs a red light. This duty of a policeman contributes to the negative view the American society gives the police as they are associated with punishing and stopping people to enforce the law.
In light of countering our view that police are solely out there to issue punishments, Inciardi states that their peacekeeping activities even include “areas of public service such as directing traffic, settling disputes… and delivering babies” (Inciardi 182). Thus, it is safe to say that we elect our law enforcement agents for activities that expand much further than simply reducing crime.
Putting police on duty does not come without a cost to our civil freedoms. For example, the surveillance activity of a policeman intrudes into my privacy as I walk along the sidewalk. It gives the law enforcement authority over private individuals that may or may not appreciate losing their autonomy. This is demonstrated when Inciardi mentions a police observer that provides an example that demonstrates this loss of autonomy-the person in the example would call the police rather than shooting the individual that is trying to cut down his tree, thus he loses his right to use force and gives it up to the police (Inciardi 184-185).
Through methods of bias, the media can skew our view of police toward the more negative view of lacking control of their use of force. A clear example of this is in an article written by Michael Snyder stating: “Just this week, there have been stories about police killing a baby deer at an animal shelter, about police killing a 95-year-old World War II veteran in a retirement home…” (Snyder). This bias by omission intends to provoke a public opinion ignoring the many more positive contributions such as keeping the streets safe that the police provided during the week. Another key factor to the media’s coverage of law enforcement is that it biases in order to favor profits.
With the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin case, according to Jaime Ortega, the media “turned the whole case into a racially biased solo prosecution to promote his guilt and sponsor an anti-Zimmerman campaign that would last for over a year” (Ortega). This focus biases the case by spin and omission of facts such as Trayvon Martin’s past record, favoring a one sided view that Zimmerman should be punished. By doing so, the issue can be blown up into a much hotter topic that raises money for the news and activist groups supporting Trayvon.
Connecting this back to law enforcement situations, the police killing a baby deer is an example of an abnormal act that is far more interesting than a story that a policeman is successful in directing traffic on a busy road, thus it will raise more money for the media. Law enforcement with its protection of our safety and peacekeeping certainly does more good than harm. It is just our misconceptions and biases that the media provides that make us feel as it is the other way around.