Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The transparent News and Record

     Sunday, June 21st the Greensboro News and Record began a three part series written by staff reporter Joe Gamm titled "Deadly shots echo in silence".  Included in his subtitle was this conclusion;

"A News and Record look at police involved shootings found one consistent element: The public will never learn why investigators ruled the action justified".

In this one sentence presented at the very beginning of his series he has staked himself to a claim that he will present evidence of police cover-up, corruption, racist shootings and a subculture of protecting law enforcement officers at the expense of poor, victimized citizens who are just shot by officers at will.  He failed miserably.  Granted, most folks in Greensboro these days look glancingly at the front page of the News and Record before proceeding to the coupons, horoscopes and crossword puzzles so a majority of subscribers probably didn't read it.  A few will read an article as long as they believe what the reporter is writing but citizens of Greensboro have long since accepted the fact that our local "news" paper is a liberal leaning propaganda tool with an agenda.  Some might have noticed in recent times that it is no longer "liberal" but a far left extremist publication that severely limits any dissenting views, especially ones that are fact and statistically based.  Some reporters and columnists have left the paper the past few years due to this extreme "lean" and the button to submit oppositional editorials (op-eds) through the website has been removed or hidden.  Letters to the editor are limited in words leaving readers very little space to rebut articles and editorials.  They claim to be fair or at least print that they "think they are".  However, recent articles whose only purpose are to bash the Greensboro Police Department and its' officers are left unopposed even when opposing articles are submitted in the word limited format they request. 
     After painfully reading all three articles in this series several times each I came to a preliminary conclusion as well; no one will mistake Joe Gamm for an investigative reporter.  His series is loaded with public record statistics and quotes from local bastions of objectivity like Nelson Johnson and Lewis Pitts.  When he quotes officers it is usually limited to one statement with no follow up reporting or details.  For instance a statement included from Greensboro Chief of Police Wayne Scott;

"To characterize it (the issue) as racist is unfair.  It's very short-sighted to the incident".

That's it; no follow up question, no allowing Chief Scott to elaborate and no apparent intent to include examples of what Chief Scott was referring to.  Compare that with the numerous statements included from Johnson and Pitts that make specific claims with no examples, explanations or evidence to back the statements up and the article becomes the same old News and Record GPD bash fest.  Gamm uses the words secrecy and transparency a lot and would have you believe that details of police investigations should be public record.  He vaguely refers to both criminal and personnel confidentiality laws though he never defines them or attempts to explain them to his readers or the reasons why they exist.  Maybe he just doesn't understand.  Let me try to help you out Joe.
     Hypothetically, citizen (not Officer) Joe Gamm has a daughter that is estranged from her husband.  The husband has demonstrated periods of strange behavior, drinks too much and has a history of beating his wife and other violent behavior.  After one such beating, Joe's daughter escapes her house and retreats to her Dad's house for protection.  The husband follows his wife to Dad's house and in a rage attempts to enter, threatening the life of the daughter.  Mr. Gamm intercepts his son in law who is six inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than Joe.  The son in law states "I'm gonna kill her" and proceeds to attempt to force his way past Joe.  A physical confrontation ensues in which the larger son in law is getting the best of the encounter.  Afraid for his daughter's life, Joe pulls his pistol and shoots the son in law.
     North Carolina General Statute 14-51.3 allows for a citizen's use of force to protect his life or the life of another when that citizen has articulable, reasonable fear that his life or the life of another is in jeopardy.  It also provides relief of criminal or civil liability.  This depiction is an example of a legitimate use of force allowed by law despite the son in law being considered unarmed.  The physical superiority in size and the belief that his daughter was in danger if the son in law was not stopped makes the use of deadly force appropriate.  
     Criminal investigative procedure now takes over.  Police are called to investigate the incident, whether a death as a result of the confrontation occurs or not.  Witnesses are interviewed and the statements provided are evaluated for probable cause by the investigators.  This evidence is presented to a prosecuting attorney who decides if the evidence suggests a criminal violation or indicates a legitimate self defense.  If the evidence is not compelling one way or the other or if the case is  "controversial" in nature, the evidence is presented to an anonymous 18 member Gran Jury that is comprised of randomly selected citizens; not white citizens, not black citizens, not male or female citizens, random citizens.  If the gran jury decides it is criminal then Mr. Gamm is prosecuted.  The evidence by law remains confidential so that a potential jury pool would not be influenced or form prior opinion of the case based on, oh let's say, media speculation and manipulation.  Only evidence presented in court becomes public record and any other details remain confidential to protect Mr. Gamm from unwarranted scrutiny.
     If the gran jury decides Mr. Gamm acted in self defense then all details are kept in confidentiality and are usually only revealed or discussed with the family of the injured, in this hypothetical case the son in law's family.  Remember that our standard of law maintains that all are considered innocent until proven guilty, have a right to due process and a fair trial under the law and have a right to privacy guaranteed under the United States Constitution; that includes ALL citizens.  There is no provision for "the public's right to know" thus protecting Mr. Gamm and his family from unfair and uneducated scrutiny by those who have no stake in the incident at all.   
     This is the procedure for ALL cases involving potential self defense and like it or not Joe, police officers are citizens with the same rights and protections as you.  There is no codicil in the law or constitution that says law enforcement officers are to be treated differently.  You claim that the public will never know why investigators clear officers yet you printed 33 cases of officer involved shootings, each one describing the justification for the use of force.  What details are you seeking?  Why do you believe reporters such as yourself or citizens who are not involved in these cases deserve details of investigations?  Where is that information or those details guaranteed to you in the law?  Do you believe that the witnesses in these cases or the documented evidence is made up?  Do you believe that citizens with no law enforcement training and no education in evaluating evidence should be deciding a citizen's fate?  Would you want your family to be under public scrutiny for suffering through a traumatic event that was not of their own making?  Is this the transparency you believe should be available?  What is your real reason for writing this series?
     No matter what the race, what the gender, what the age, what the ethnicity, what the circumstance or what the mental state, if you assault or threaten to assault a law enforcement officer with a weapon or physical superiority causing that officer to "fear for his safety" you are subject to being shot, tased, pepper sprayed or hit with a baton.  Police officers understand that there is a risk to their safety and life every time they go to work.  Nowhere in the law does it say that officers are to sacrifice their lives or endure physical abuse.  It is not an officer's job or responsibility to determine the intent, mental state, level of impairment or if their assailant has just "had a bad day" when making that split second decision to protect themselves or others.  As a media member report the event; that's your job.  Criticize or speculate based on one side of the story with no understanding or consideration of the very laws that protect everyone including police officers; how dare you act so irresponsibly!
  I can tell you this; there is a large percentage of the population of Greensboro and the entire Greensboro Police Department that believe your reasons are to continue to stir tensions in this city.  Recent editorials by your staff in general and this series in particular are perceived to be designed to further bash our department and have intensified in rhetoric and frequency since the appointment of Chief Wayne Scott, the candidate your two continuously referenced sources disapproved of.  Your continuous references to Ferguson and Baltimore appear to suggest you are desperate for such an event to occur here.  Your constant quoting of divisive figures such as Johnson and Pitts with absolutely no opposing or differing views suggest an agenda to promote racial divide in the city.  Lately, the News and Record's writers and editorialists have brought nothing positive to our community and if you have it has been obscured by your campaign against the police.  You have presented no evidence of your claims, your insinuations, nor have you supported your editorial opinions with facts.  Your entire staff seems to be complicit.  Allen Johnson has trotted out the same information and weak references bashing black police officers twice in as many weeks.  Doug Clark wrote an article headlined "Officer works on right side of blurry legal line, court says" in which he accuses Officer Timothy Brown of somehow working in some large gray area when making an arrest.  No less than the North Carolina State Supreme Court agreed that Officer Brown acted appropriately but Mr. Clark couldn't hide his agenda by ending his article with this statement; "As it turned out, they (suspects) were caught red handed by an alert police officer who worked just on the right side of a blurry line between intrusion and reasonable suspicion".  This statement alone indicates an ignorance and a lack of understanding of police work and investigations.  The STATE SUPREME COURT says that Officer Brown had probable cause not reasonable suspicion.  There is no "blurry", just a sensationized headline and an inaccurate, irresponsible final sentence. 
     Now, the "half-investigated" series by Joe Gamm.  If the writers and reporters of the Greensboro News and Record are not going to attempt to educate themselves to some extent on law enforcement procedures and the laws of the state and country, just maybe they should try something a bit more responsible; stick to reporting the news instead of offering opinion on an area you have no knowledge of or experience in.  When you participate in writing opinion based on a lack of comprehension and information and from sources who have a history of skewing the truth you give the perception of having no journalistic integrity or professionalism.  Your opinions are one sided, are dividing the community and solving no problems.  Your articles are irresponsible.  Until you provide opposing or dissenting viewpoints, evidence and "balanced" investigations that allow for opinions to be formed by the readers, you are no more than a grocery store tabloid.  Haven't you wondered "why" your subscriptions are declining?  It ain't just the Internet.                   

1 comment:

  1. very well written. I also wasted a significant amount of my life reading Mr Gamms 3 part series. I was reminded that the N&R has no shortage of ignorant, racist, authority hating "journalist" intent on dividing the community by vomiting their blatant lies, "half truths" and degrading insinuations to a fan base of ignorant readers content with remaining in the dark. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Keep common sense alive!