By Anne Trubek
In an Editorial Board op-ed published in the Friday, October 16 edition of Cleveland’s main newspaper, readers are instructed to be “patient” with the Tamir Rice case in the wake of Prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s release of two expert reports that claim reasonable use of force. I use “instructed” intentionally, because the editorial is patronizing, offensive, and tinged with racism: it suggests readers “just settle down,” while it portrays anyone upset by the recent reports as irrational and mob-like.
It does this through use of language, rhetoric, and coded words. Let’s examine how:
See this paragraph, about the shooting of Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, which has resulted in no charges or arrests:
“To many, the situation is uncomplicated: A 12-year-old is dead, and he shouldn’t be. And somebody has to pay for it.
According to those sentences, the “many” — presumably, but not clearly labeled as such, those who want a ruling, or arrest, or movement towards a decision on the Tamir Rice shooting — are simple, and they all have the same, uniform position. This is a wildly unfair characterization: many who argue the case should have proceeded faster disagree upon how the case should look, what charges should brought, what penalty might be incurred and by whom.
On the other hand, those who are OK with the slow pace are more sophisticated, according to the language the editorial board uses in the next paragraph:
To others, it’s not that simple: What happened to Tamir is inarguably a tragedy, but it would compound the tragedy to charge Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who pulled the trigger, without sufficient evidence of a crime.”
These “others” are more complex, and do not just scream demands. And they understand you need “sufficient evidence of a crime” before charging someone — as if those “simple” folk in the preceding paragraph do not understand this basic fact of the law. (Let us not forget that two very detailed videos of the crime are available to the public.)
The editors then continue to shush those calling for a charge to be made:
“A little more patience and a little less mind-reading seems called for,” they write.
Tamir Rice was shot almost a year ago. Sure, calling for a charge, say, a few days after such an event might be premature. But why is patience important now? The editorial does not say, or explain. Nor do they say who is reading minds, and what minds are being read. I honestly have no idea what this refers to, although clearly we are to infer it is what the “simple, uncomplicated” side does.
The editors continue, using neutral language, to describe McGinty and the experts who wrote the most recent reports. The word “reasonable” is used a few times in these paragraphs. (No mention is made of the biases and histories of these experts, which other news outlets researched and revealed.)
The tone shifts significantly when introducing those who responded negatively to the release of the reports:
Predictably, the reaction from Tamir’s family, the lawyers for his estate, assorted activists and many others in the community was anger and outrage. One of the lawyers, Subodh Chandra, went so far as to accuse McGinty of using the investigation to make sure the case never goes to trial.
Starting the sentence with “Predictably” defuses the legitimacy of what is to come from the jump. And it only gets worse: they were predictably “angry and outraged.” Now that is some very coded language. Why chose ‘anger’ and ‘outrage’ instead of “oppose,” “responded” or “begged to differ”? Using words that play into stereotypes of angry blacks, and angry black women in particular, the editors demean the responses of major constituents in this case — the lawyers for the victim, the victim’s family, and citizens actively engaged in this case. (And who are these “assorted activists,” anyway? Naming them, as the article does the experts asked to review the case, would be helpful.)
The editorial board then proceeds, as if Dad shushing kids in the backseat or a teacher chiding a classroom of third graders: “Everyone would be wise to wait until the full investigation is over and presented to the grand jury before forming an opinion.”
That is us they are talking to. We, their readers; we, who they serve in their capacity as newsgatherers in Northeast Ohio. We should be quiet, and sit quietly, and be less rambunctious. We are all 3rd graders, apparently.
An editorial is meant to express an opinion, of course, and not objectively report the news. And yes, I disagree with the substance of the editorial. But what galls me is the patronizing attitude of the columnists — do they not respect the intelligence of their readers? Do they really see us as schoolchildren to be taught? And, particularly irresponsible is the, um, predictable use of racist language. Calling the mother of Tamir Rice, her lawyer and those who support them simple, angry and outraged? Even a third grader knows what that means.
Anne Trubek is founder and publisher of Belt.