Context is everything

You can’t know the full situation from a video clip or sound bite.

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to “Systemic racism is a fact,” published Sept. 2.

A recent letter and the copious amounts of conjecture I hear about video clips in the news these days leaves me grateful for experts…and lawyers.

How is it that thinking people can see clips of video as complete narratives? Without audio, or history, or certainty that some rhetorical editing hasn’t been performed on the video, it’s absurd. The most any clip of video can do is elicit questions. We should be saying when we see a concerning video clip, this…? But instead we say…this is. How many times must we be reminded that our eyes will deceive us? We know the danger in jumping to conclusions. We know the clever ways individuals and organizations manipulate video and even audio to support their own narratives. If you still watch any channel of the nightly news and believe it is anything more than entertainment, there is a party going on and you’re invited.

The letter that prompted this response opens with the citation of a video clip in which an officer purportedly pulls over a black man for nothing more than an illegal license plate cover. The writer is incredulous. This is obvious racism. Obvious profiling. Obviously a sign of all that is bad in the world. Is this? It could be. Or it may not be. It certainly raises questions. It is not, however, conclusive of anything. Did the car match the description of a car used in a crime earlier in the day, the week? Did the officer see some other suspicious aspect to the car or its occupants? I would offer this to media consumers, don’t bite on every piece of propaganda dangled in front of your face.

And I’ll finish with an anecdote. A police officer walked in my office one day as it was starting to rain and said “hey, the back window of your car is down a little.” I thanked him, smiled to myself, and thought, leave it to the cop to notice. They notice things average people (you and me) do not. And sometimes an illegal license plate cover is probable cause to take a closer look.

Brandy Garton


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