“Mass Shooting Hysteria and the Death of John Crawford”: I’ll stop linking Radley Balko’s articles

“Mass Shooting Hysteria and the Death of John Crawford”: I’ll stop linking Radley Balko’s articles October 2, 2014

when the nation stops needing them…

…There are some obvious questions here about police training, most importantly why they fired so quickly and made no attempt at de-escalation. If they had, it seems pretty clear that Crawford would have dropped the gun and would still be alive today. It’s hard to believe that a father of two knowingly provoked police with a pellet rifle. That Crawford was black and the police officers who shot him are white (as is Ritchie) also raises the usual questions about racial bias, both in policing and in our perceptions of criminality.

But the case also raises some important questions about the consequences of how we cover mass shootings. This week, the FBI released a report that claimed to show a significant increase in “active shooter” incidents over the last 10 years. The report did not claim to show an increase in mass shooting incidents. Yet that’s how it was widely reported. Over at Reason, Jesse Walker consulted two academics who study mass shootings, Grant Duwe at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University.  Both say the FBI report is a helpful contribution to the discussion, but also insist that it does not show what the media claim it shows. …

It isn’t difficult to see how the misconception that mass shootings are becoming ubiquitous might make us see threats and potential mass killers instead of, say, a guy checking out a pellet gun, or a Costco shopper with a legal sidearm. And it isn’t difficult to see how a frightened witness might even exaggerate what he saw to get the police to take him seriously. Last month, the California State University San Marcos campus was put on lockdown and a SWAT team was sent in after someone mistook a staff member carrying an umbrella for a mass shooter. Umbrellas have caused similar lockdowns in Issaquah, Wash.Fort Washington, Pa.; and Akron, Ohio.We’ve seen other recent lockdowns after cellphones (again here, here, and here), camera tripods (again here), a silver watch, and a folded-up apron were all mistaken for guns; an arm cut was mistaken for a bullet wound; an exploding basketball was mistaken for a gunshot; surveyors and an unarmed jogger were mistaken for gunmen; other various “mistaken identity” errors; and when someone misheard the lyrics to the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”(Yes, really.)

Perhaps these incidents can all be dismissed as a “better safe than sorry” approach. But the consequences get more serious when you start to think about the impact false perceptions about mass shootings might have on police officers.

more (and Balko I think misses the mistaken/possibly prank-call lockdown at Yale; how many more of these have there been?)


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