Maybe it’s relatively inconsequential. After all, differentiating between people who assault police officers is a pretty fine distinction among a group who are markedly distinct from the general public. Still, such things can illustrate the way in which the news media construct narratives.
I’m thinking of this WPRI story making famous a man from New Bedford, Massachusetts. According to the story, while drunk at a party in suburban Acushnet, the man attacked a police officer who’d responded to a fireworks complaint. Not far away, in Hartford, Connecticut, three police officers were hurt when a crowd began throwing large-scale fireworks at them. For context, WTNH reports:
Illegal fireworks have been a huge problem for weeks across the state. Last month, fire officials say a 17-month-old baby suffered second-degree burns as a result.
In contrast, I have yet to see the name and mugshot of the person who assaulted a police officer during the Black Lives Matter protest in Providence on June 5. Indeed, anybody who didn’t happen to catch mention of that incident as reporters tweeted live from the event probably wouldn’t know it happened.
In Boston, nine police officers had to be taken to the hospital, but in that case, WPRI reports them in a collection of statistics rather than a narrative story:
The Boston Police Department confirmed Monday that nine officers were injured and transported to area hospitals, and many more were treated on scene. Police said 21 cruisers were damaged and 53 individuals were arrested on a variety of charges, including larceny, breaking and entering and malicious destruction of property.
That paragraph is followed by two describing (without names) three low-level crimes examples from those 53 arrests and then a tweet from Governor Charlie Baker thanking “the peaceful protesters for their positive message.”
Taken as a whole, one might think that 431 (or more) officers injured during recent protests and riots across the country represented some sort of incidental fluke, whereas Americans who set off fireworks are a dangerous mob sowing chaos and disorder. Nobody should have any confidence that the news media will conspicuously report any details linking the fireworks-related police assaults with the recently stoked anti-police sentiment.
Meanwhile, the message is clear: If you are going to do bad or stupid things like assault police officers, trespass on government property, or steal and loot, make sure you do it under cover of a political uprising favored by the news media. That way, the odds will be lower that your mugshot will chase you around the Internet for the rest of your life.