Responding to Misleading Media Narratives in the Wake of Ferguson, Staten Island

Last week, a Missouri grand jury voted not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. This week, a grand jury in New York voted not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner. None of these incidents was an isolated event. The deaths of these men and the decisions not to indict their killers are a manifestation of systemic social problems in the United States. 

In Claremont, students organized a march as a sign of solidarity with the Ferguson community and as a call to action against the broader problem of institutionalized racism in the United States, as Jazmin Ocampo reports (See News, page 1). We applaud those students for acting on their beliefs: for not remaining in silence, or limiting dissent to Tweets and Facebook posts. While social media does provide a venue for raising awareness, we believe that change will require much more effort. As part of that effort, we should all do what we can to keep educating ourselves about what happened and is happening in Ferguson and in New York and the reality of institutionalized racism in the United States. 

Self-education has not been made easier by unprofessional media coverage of Ferguson. One of the most common trends in major news organizations’ coverage of this issue has been the overemphasis on incidents of violence and theft and the downplaying of peaceful protests. At best, we consider this coverage to be underinformed; at worst, it is irresponsible and dangerously misleading.

As student journalists, we believe in the value of thorough and objective reporting. But navigating the modern deluge of hastily written and re-reported news can be daunting. For those seeking quality reporting on the events in Ferguson, or on national issues like structural racism and police militarization, we encourage you to look beyond the dominant headlines and seek out diligent, on-the-ground reporting. We also recommend turning to organizations that emphasize the perspectives and experiences of people of color because too many news organizations are overwhelmingly white. As the attention span of the national media wanes—and it is already waning—find the authors, the publications and the websites that give context to these momentary events. 

Whatever articles you read, question them. Attune yourself to sensational buzzwords, hasty generalizations and simple narratives. These are complex issues that deserve complex treatment, and we must use our capacity for understanding to its fullest, especially when the narratives involved have too often been silenced or ignored.

Beyond education, we hope that students continue to take action within this community, and we challenge others to aid in tackling the problems that pervade our nation. And we hope that those who have been moved by these events will not allow time or diminishing media focus to obscure the ways that national problems become individual tragedies. There are many lessons to be learned from the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Only through perseverance—in observation, in education and in action—will we truly learn.

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