Another young man died Friday at the hands of a police officer.
On March 6th 2015, 19 year old Tony Robinson was killed by a veteran Madison police officer, Matt Kenny, who had been called to the scene for a disturbance. The facts of the incident are still being disseminated, and no clear and unbiased account of what happened has been confirmed. According to the police scanner audio, multiple calls were made to police that Robinson was causing a disturbance, running in front of cars, and allegedly assaulting some individual. Officer Kenny arrived on the scene and, feeling justified, followed Robinson into a duplex. According to police, a scuffle occurred and Robinson was fatally shot multiple times.
Madison police chief, Mike Koval, has been portrayed as apologetic by the media, and does indeed apologize in a post on his blog. But, as any observant reader will see, this message to the community of Madison is used as a public relations opportunity and functions as a tranquilizer. Chief Koval has learned from the heavy-handed police responses in Ferguson.
There’s a lot of angles one can talk about this incident. One could compare it to Ferguson or other recent events, question the validity of the deadly force used, or look at the media’s representation of Robinson. But, I was struck by the apology. Chief Koval issued a well-crafted response to the incident and I’d like to linguistically analyze what he said, reading between the lines.
Koval wrote four paragraphs; let’s look at them chronologically.
The first paragraph starts with a reference to Sir Robert Peel, who has been called the founder of modern policing. Peel helped to pass the London Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 which established a full-time, uniformed police force in the city of London. It’s worth noting that even at a time of high crime, the British public needed considerable lobbying to accept this act. Citizens were rightly concerned that a standing army would produce a means for the government to have a potential despot-like control over the citizenry.
What Koval doesn’t mention (and probably doesn’t think anyone will take the time to realize) is that Sir Robert Peel’s principles in policing have historically run in direct contrast to American policing ideology. Ever wonder why British police aren’t typically armed? That stems from Sir Robert Peel’s ideas.
Koval goes on to emphasize “the police are the public, and the public are the police” exerted from a larger Peelian principle. Koval left out some of the more striking aspects of Peelian principles such as “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it“; or “the degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionally to the necessity of the use of physical force.”
Koval goes on, attempting to blur the lines between the community of individuals to whom this event acts as a catalyst for change; individuals who can see themselves in Tony and identify with the probability that they too might be dismissed to a cops trigger finger. Koval asserts that the Madison police share the “sense of loss” that this community, alienated and discriminated, feels.
I find this insulting.
Koval continues, portraying a semblance of effective bureaucracy; touting Madison’s review process as fair. According to Koval, the State of Wisconsin’s Division of Criminal Investigation and the District Attorney will fairly decide if Officer Kenny will be held accountable for his actions. Koval finishes this section by assuming that the public wants blood and pleads for an appeal to “due process”
Lastly, Koval portrays the police as “guardians” who “lay down [their] life for a complete stranger”. He says that “no one joins my profession hoping to do harm to anyone”. Well, if that’s true, Chief Koval, then there’s something about your profession that turns do-gooders into demons.
MPD’s Chief Koval gives Copblockers an idea of the new tactics we face as a movement. Is this the new and more savvy method of pacifying the public’s outrage towards the use of deadly force against another unarmed Black man? Has the fight to hold police accountable for their actions become a strategic public relations chess game?