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Black press, white press, and their opposition: The case of the police killing of Tyisha Miller
Unformatted Document Text:  14 Linguistic packaging Any number of additional questions might also have been raised. Did the above events describe an officer-involved shooting of a trouble-making teen who drank too much and found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was it a killing of a young black woman by trigger-happy, racist police? Were those who killed Ms. Miller heroes who tragically exercised bad judgment in attempting to rescue her? Or were they racists in uniform whose actions amounted to a criminal act? Would the officers have carried out the same plan had Ms. Miller been white? Would the same plan have been implemented had the involved officers been black? Of course behind all of these questions looms a larger one: To what extent was race a factor in the killing and subsequent events? Yet consideration of race was both denied and deflected by the Press-Enterprise. From early on the white newspaper announced it would not engage in “parachute journalism” and use race to “exploit unique or sexy angles” (15 Jan 1999). xxii At the same time the newspaper seemed eager to print officers’ statements that charges of racism were “incendiary” (19 Feb 1999) and that those who would raise the charge were “playing the race card” (24 Feb 1999). Rather than raising questions that pointed to the possible presence of a culture of racism inside the Riverside Police Department, the following questions were raised instead (Press-Enterprise 18, 23 Jan 1999): Are Riverside’s police adequately trained? Do Riverside police tend to use force in a responsible way? Are Riverside police more prone to use force than other comparatively sized departments? Although editors rued the possibility that such questions might possibly have opened the newspaper to the charge of being “anti-cop” (which the editors strongly denied (17 Jan 1999)), that possibility no doubt paled in comparison to that of suggesting the enduring presence of racism within the ranks of the Riverside Police Department. The denials and deflections took a lot of work in light of real-world events. xxiii Consider, for example, the events of June 1999 when as many as 200 of the 343-member Riverside police force shaved their heads in protest of Ms. Miller’s killers being dismissed from their jobs. The Black Voice News immediately reported that the protesting cops looked like “skinheads.” Covering the staged event (during which reporters from the Press-Enterprise were conspicuously absent), the black newspaper noted the highly visible presence of “real skinheads” at the local high school where the head-shaving ceremony was held as prelude to the police protest march to city hall (Black Voice News 24 June 1999). The black

Authors: huspek, michael.
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14
Linguistic packaging
Any number of additional questions might also have been raised. Did the above events describe
an officer-involved shooting of a trouble-making teen who drank too much and found herself in the wrong
place at the wrong time? Or was it a killing of a young black woman by trigger-happy, racist police? Were
those who killed Ms. Miller heroes who tragically exercised bad judgment in attempting to rescue her? Or
were they racists in uniform whose actions amounted to a criminal act? Would the officers have carried out
the same plan had Ms. Miller been white? Would the same plan have been implemented had the involved
officers been black? Of course behind all of these questions looms a larger one: To what extent was race a
factor in the killing and subsequent events?
Yet consideration of race was both denied and deflected by the Press-Enterprise. From early on
the white newspaper announced it would not engage in “parachute journalism” and use race to “exploit
unique or sexy angles” (15 Jan 1999).
xxii
At the same time the newspaper seemed eager to print officers’
statements that charges of racism were “incendiary” (19 Feb 1999) and that those who would raise the
charge were “playing the race card” (24 Feb 1999). Rather than raising questions that pointed to the
possible presence of a culture of racism inside the Riverside Police Department, the following questions
were raised instead (Press-Enterprise 18, 23 Jan 1999): Are Riverside’s police adequately trained? Do
Riverside police tend to use force in a responsible way? Are Riverside police more prone to use force than
other comparatively sized departments? Although editors rued the possibility that such questions might
possibly have opened the newspaper to the charge of being “anti-cop” (which the editors strongly denied
(17 Jan 1999)), that possibility no doubt paled in comparison to that of suggesting the enduring presence of
racism within the ranks of the Riverside Police Department.
The denials and deflections took a lot of work in light of real-world events.
xxiii
Consider, for
example, the events of June 1999 when as many as 200 of the 343-member Riverside police force shaved
their heads in protest of Ms. Miller’s killers being dismissed from their jobs. The Black Voice News
immediately reported that the protesting cops looked like “skinheads.” Covering the staged event (during
which reporters from the Press-Enterprise were conspicuously absent), the black newspaper noted the
highly visible presence of “real skinheads” at the local high school where the head-shaving ceremony was
held as prelude to the police protest march to city hall (Black Voice News 24 June 1999). The black


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