Take a moment to read this initial police report filed immediately after an incident.
On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress. Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.
Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.
No officers were injured in the incident.
Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.
Apart from the mentions of Hennepin County and Minneapolis and the forgery, there is nothing that would alert a reader that this bland police report was about George Floyd’s horrific murder by Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers at the scene, while three other officers stood by to prevent bystanders from intervening. We are given inconsequential details such as the color of the car but nothing about how Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, slowly squeezing the life out of him.
Here is another event where the police misled the public.
Just after midnight on June 1, 2020, at the height of the protests over the killing of Breonna Taylor, a group of military trucks carrying police officers and National Guard members pulled up to an intersection in West Louisville. They had just received an order to clear the lot of Dino’s, a popular corner store where people tended to gather on weekends.
As law enforcement, many dressed in full riot gear, walked through the lot, one officer crossed the street and began firing pepper balls at a group of people at a barbecue restaurant owned by David McAtee. Minutes later, around 20 bullets had been fired, and McAtee was dead.
In the 11 months since the incident, the police department has kept most of its investigation from the public and pushed an official narrative: that police went there to disperse the last large crowd of protests, and that officers returned fire after McAtee fired first. But an investigation by VICE News, based on unreleased internal documents, body camera footage, and accounts from multiple inside sources with direct knowledge, shows that the chaotic situation that ended in McAtee’s death was created by the police, which fired pepper balls indiscriminately at bystanders on private property.
LMPD has repeatedly misrepresented the narrative of that night, according to multiple sources who say there was no intelligence that showed protesters were regrouping at this intersection, or that the parking lot at the gas station looked any different from any other night and needed a heavily armed detail of officers and National Guard to clear it.
The order to deploy to the intersection seemed like an obvious “power play,” according to one high-ranking officer. It set off a series of events that ended with McAtee being shot in the chest, and even some of the highest-ranking members of the LMPD considered it unnecessary.
“It was a flex of the muscle,” said another high-ranking LMPD officer.
This deliberate misleading of the public by the police is all too common. Here is another report flagged by Chris Quinn, editor of Cleveland.com.
Consider the shooting of a Cleveland man by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent this month.
The man arrived home and found two strangers sitting in a car in front of his house – a house that had been hit by stray gunshots in recent years. I think any of us would be perturbed by strangers sitting in a car in front of our houses. In many neighborhoods, if you were perturbed enough, you’d call the police. In this neighborhood, though, people don’t always trust police.
The man approached the two men in the car and, according to the police, raised his shirt to show he had a gun in his waistband, and one of the DEA agents jumped out and shot him.
Now get this: when police wrote a report on the incident, they listed the DEA agent as the crime victim. The DEA released a statement saying he “actively brandished” his gun at the agent. Look up the definition of brandish. Lifting your shirt to reveal a gun doesn’t fit it. And then the man who had been shot was charged with menacing and carrying a concealed weapon.
The DEA had the audacity during a press conference the night of the shooting to say gunfire was exchanged. It’s not true. But it was reported as if it were. The DEA also suggested that the man might have been attempting a carjacking or a robbery with no evidence of that.
The police know that the media usually comes to them first for information and thus they can frame the narrative so that the all-important first impressions that the public gets is in their favor and becomes hard to change later.
So how can news reporters better combat this deliberate misinformation by police? Quinn suggests some ways.
In newsrooms across the country, we are working to change our approach to situations like this. One way is by getting other people involved to talk to us. That can be hard. People don’t always trust us, in part because of the relationship we have with police.
The police versions can be subtle in how they mislead, too. Columbus police shot and killed a 16-year-old girl this week. But when the mayor discussed it, he called her a young woman. She was not a young woman. She was a teenager. A juvenile. A kid. Did calling her a young woman somehow lessen the horror of her homicide?
How often, after police kill someone, do you hear or see news reports about a “police-involved shooting.” That’s how police describe it, and reporters for too long have used that wording. It’s the antiseptic way to avoid saying police shot and killed someone.
Think about it. If a drug dealer shoots and kills someone, do you think the police report says “drug dealer-involved shooting?” Have you ever heard the phrase “carjacker-involved shooting?” Of course not. In those cases, police say the drug dealer, the gang member or the carjacker shot and killed someone. They reserve the antiseptic language for themselves, and too many reporters then use it.
Quinn says that reporters need to get away from excessive dependence from police reports for both the facts of the case and the way things are worded.
As consumers of news we can play our part by being skeptical of any reports of police-related incidents that have just the police as sources and wait for a fuller picture to emerge before forming any major conclusions.