Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Truth Be Told

Gary Graham, Spokesman Review editor, had a column in today's paper addressing he and his fellow editors' decision to publish the photo of the dead suspect from last Friday's shooting.

Apparently a number of people complained about the photo so Mr Graham explained the reasoning behind the decision.

• Fatal shootings in this community and others have been in the news a lot lately. Officer-involved shootings, in particular, have prompted considerable discussion in Spokane and Spokane Valley. That context seemed especially important in the examination of how to handle the photo.

• The nature of media reports about fatal shootings tends to sanitize violence. A body fully covered by a tarp, or one not shown at all, tells a far different story than the reality of the event.

• There can be deadly consequences when one chooses to begin firing a weapon, whether it’s aimed at relatives or police officers. Publishing a photo of a dead criminal suspect is not likely to deter the next suspect who is determined to use a weapon on another human being, but it does signal to a community that law enforcement officers are trained to respond with force in emergency situations.

• The shooting occurred on a Friday afternoon near a busy intersection before countless witnesses. Unlike most shootings, this one was very public and not easily ignored by anyone in the area.

Personally, I didn't have a problem with the photo which you can view here. I understand the need for the truth and I understand and agree with the reasoning Mr Graham presents. I respect his decision.

But I have to wonder. How different would it be if a law enforcement officer was lying on the ground instead? (In asking this, I'm not questioning or challenging the Review editors, but merely wondering out loud about the public's perspective.)

In the published photo we have a suspect shot dead by police after he shot at his father's house, drove away, walked away from his truck on Monroe Street and either shot into the air and/or at police officers. From all accounts he was certainly a danger to the public and the use of deadly force by the police was appropriate. So in a sense many of us have a feeling that the outcome is, for lack of a better word, acceptable. Justifiable. So publishing a photo of the dead suspect may upset a number of people, but given the lack visible injury and the distance from the camera, the photo is not really objectionable. It's sad that Ethan Corporon did what he did and died as a result, especially since it turns out he was mentally ill and quite unstable. But even so, many of us can justify his death as a result of his actions.

But how would our view change if a policeman was lying on the ground instead? Mr Graham's reasons are just as applicable in this scenario, aren't they? And yet this is not something that is supposed to happen. A fallen hero would be mourned and the suspect prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Would a newspaper print a photo of a police officer covering the body of a fallen comrade with a blue tarp? If so, would the public's reaction be far more intense?

Like I said. I'm just wondering out loud.

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