(a guest post from Willie Osterweil)
The story first broke with the salacious glee of a journalist knowing he’s about to get paid. Another mass shooting, this time in New York City, at the Empire State Building of all places? Such senseless good luck for a media saturated with mass murder: the symbolic weight of that building, which patiently outlasted its twin competitors for tallest in the city honors, and to top it off the killer was a disgruntled employee recently laid off? Nine wounded in an outburst of class warfare and another crazy terrorist to add to the arsenal of reasons for NYPD empowerment. You could practically hear Ray Kelly smacking his lips.
Everything was going according to script: the liberals cried for gun control and conservatives counter proposed concealed carry, the news agencies played live footage while the anchors employed their most somber tones, and the consumption and de-politicization of another Imaginary Party member’s rage took its well practiced course.
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That is, of course, until a couple on-site cameras revealed that, actually, this madman wasn’t firing wildly into the crowd, just killing his old tormentor and then putting down his gun, and it was police who shot nine bystanders before killing him, in what is their second cell-phone captured daylight murder this month. And when the news came out that Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of New York’s finest turned a murder into a shooting gallery, coverage of the violence dropped off dramatically.
But, try as they might to withdraw attention, it was too late to bury the story: people wanted to know what happened, so the newsmen all changed their tune (and their ledes). The nine were not ‘wounded’ but ‘injured’, not ‘shot’ but ‘grazed’ by bullets. The New York times described police shooting nine people as “nine people were wounded in gunfire”, as though “gunfire” were a weather pattern. This is more than just passive voice, there are no shooters here at all.
Because when the police shoot somebody it is not a tragedy, it is not senseless, it is not an oturage or mayhem or further evidence of our nation’s moral and social collapse. It is not even done by people, but by the environment: it becomes just something that happens, a freak accident, as abstract and passive a news event as a snowstorm. If they could, they would leave the nine people out of it, but the media was too eager, pounced too fast on the story to successfully drop their presence, and so instead the police line is repeated without questioning, despite being so obviously nonsensical that only a journalist could believe it: “[Ray] Kelly’s comments reinforce the picture that began to emerge on Friday: that in acting quickly and with deadly force, the police prevented the gunman, Jeffrey T. Johnson, 58, from inflicting more harm but in so doing also were responsible for many of the injuries.” Clearly we should thank the police for preventing more harm from being inflicted by the gunman. Just imagine how many people he could have shot with the four bullets he had left!
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Police don’t kill people either, and that’s because, when it comes down to it, police are more guns than people, objects not only absolved from but incapable of personal responsibility. The news will always keep the police from the subject position of any negative story, because the newspapers, magazines, bloggers and reporters are the other part of the police, the pretty face and soothing voice that apologizes for the long arm’s blows, which mystifies police actions and empties violence of political content, which transforms rage into madness and antagonism into insanity.
No matter that the killer is remorseless, that he speaks calmly and rationally about his actions, no matter how many public murders occur in succession, the media will never allow an explanation other than complete madness. That’s why its so important that the police kill the murderer rather than even attempting an arrest, that the media silence him by stripping his actions of anything but the most apolitical ‘personal’ motives. The media understands this process better even than the police, (who ultimately are blunt, stupid instruments); the vigour with which they disavow understanding these acts gives them away. Because the killings wont end, the killings are terminal struggles against a totality that makes itself appear so vast and endless that a bullet becomes the only way out.