Sean Bell Illustrates Lines that Divide Us

    by Dori J. Maynard
    May 12, 2008

    Blaring red headlines on the Drudge Report announced to the world that the three New York City Police who shot Sean Bell 50 times, killing him, were found not guilty. Drudge, with his right wing reputation, it turns out was one of the only mainstream white blogs to prominently play the Bell verdict. In fairness, the Huffington Post did have a small headline about the verdict.

    Things were different in the black blogosphere.

    It wasn’t just that the black interest sites carried the coverage, it was also that many included rich texture and context in which to look at the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in New York City.


    The blog Too Sense reprinted an excerpt from the magazine ColorLines, that found that the majority of people killed by the New York City Police department between 2000 and 2007 were African American.

    Over at Stereohyped, Lauren Williams wrote about a University of Chicago study that looked at the role race played in an officer’s decision to shoot at suspects.

    “Participants shoot an armed target more quickly and more often when that target is Black, rather than White. However, participants decide not to shoot an unarmed target more quickly and more often when the target is White, rather than Black. In essence, participants seem to process stereotype-consistent targets (armed Blacks and unarmed Whites) more easily than counterstereotypic targets (unarmed Blacks and armed Whites),” she quoted the report as saying.


    She included a link to the Stereotyping and Prejudice Research test which allows individuals to see how they would do if they had to decide whether to shoot or not.

    Over at Jack and Jill Politics concern was raised that verdict was a sign of things to come.

    “That’s my concern with the Sean Bell verdict. With violations being punished less often and less harshly within the department, and these cops facing no consequences for pumping 50 shots at three unarmed black men, things will only get worse,” they wrote.

    Even Bossip, a blog devoted to celebrity news devoted a couple of posts to the verdict.

    The lack of coverage outside the black blogosphere did not go unnoticed on Too Sense, a blog that uses the tagline Race, Politics and Hip-Hop.

    “Can’t help but notice that the luminaries of the progressive blogosphere are completely silent on the Sean Bell verdict. Nothing from Drum, Yglesias, Marshall, Atrios, Klein and on and on,” wrote dnA.

    A few days later, dnA posted a response to that post from Kos, who essentially said that while police brutality is an important issue, it’s not an issue that speaks to his expertise or his audience.

    “But for this blog, unless it touches upon electoral concerns, it’s generally not going to get covered. That has nothing to do with whether it’s “important” or not, and more to do with me covering what personally interests me most and is geared towards what my audience expects. Police brutality and unequal justice are both important issues, but not within my scope of expertise. I’d rather let people who know those issues better discuss them and I can focus on the stuff that I know best,” he wrote in an excerpt posted on Too Sense.

    Fair enough, but as more and more people move to getting their information from the blogosphere, the disparity of coverage around the Sean Bell verdict, and its underlying issues, is another warning sign that soon we in this country will literally not be on the same page.

    As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Kerner Commission, the seminal report that laid some of the blame for the riots that swept the country in the early and mid-1960s on an all white news media, all of us need to think about the societal ramifications of staying within our sphere of interest.

    Tagged: blogs democracy diversity government kerner commission police brutality

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