The fact that a female cop in Lawrence was the one who shot Akira Lewis back on May 29, and that she was a rookie at that, has the media confused.
Before the facts of the case were known, the media had the Ferguson template primed and ready to go: police shoot black man, police guilty until proven innocent, and maybe not even then.
The fact that Lewis is black changed little, if anything, from the police perspective but changed everything from the media’s. In the original headline of the story about the shooting, for instance, the Lawrence Journal-World informed the reader that Lewis was a “father of 6” as a way of increasing sympathy for Lewis and suspicion about the cops. How well he has fathered those six is not a story that will ever interest the media.
To her credit, however, reporter Sara Shepherd did include some background information on Lewis that suggests he was capable of provoking the incident. In addition to “his history of repeat citations for traffic violations, including driving without a license,” Lewis pleaded no contest to an aggravated battery charge for attacking a man with a baseball bat just two years ago. As part of his probation, he had to attend anger management classes. He seems to have forgotten what he learned.
Even more credit to Sheperd and her paper, in the most recent story the fact that Lewis was black and the police shooter white was not mentioned until the 32nd paragraph. This surely set some modern journalism record for discretion.
The complicating factor is that the shooter, Brindley Blood, was a rookie female. Given Lewis’s size, she had little alternative but to shoot him with something. Newsrooms do not like stories in which the racism angle butts heads with the sexism one.
Another complication is that Lewis was not singled out. He was a victim of the wasteful and intrusive national “Click It or Ticket” seat belt enforcement campaign. Instead of writing to the mayor to complain, Lewis refused to cooperate and eventually attacked the officer who questioned him, Ian McCann. The fact that Lewis is 6′ 2″ and weighs 250 inspired McCann to call for back-up.
Blood took the call. After she showed up, and after she and McCann failed to remove Lewis from his vehicle, Lewis took McCann and slammed him face first into the pavement.
When Blood attempted to tase Lewis, she shot him instead. According to her affidavit, Blood said, “I honestly can’t even give you an answer as to how I ended up with my firearm in my hand . . . It wasn’t until after I pulled my trigger that I realized it wasn’t my Taser.”
Lewis has since been released from the hospital. He faces several misdemeanor charges which would likely have been felonies had he not been shot. Blood faces the more serious charge of aggravated battery for her error. As police know everywhere, even in Lawrence, there is a flip side to white privilege.