"The sound of children screaming has been removed"
Journalists need to do better when it comes to doing PR for the police.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE published new footage from inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. The one hour and 22-minute video shows just how agonizingly slow local police were in their attempts to subdue the shooter. They also posted condensed versions of the videos on social media.
The video starts with the gunman wrecking a pickup truck outside the school, then shooting at two good Samaritans who are not hit and flee. The gunman jumps a fence and walks toward the school and he begins shooting again. By then, callers have dialed 911, children are running. The audio of a 911 call is included in the video. The killer opens the outside door to the elementary school and enters, now with a bit more caution, toward the classrooms where he opens fire.
You hear children screaming, and more gun shots, followed by a pause, and then more gunshots, and then sporadic gunshots. Authorities have said he fired more than 100 shots. Some three minutes after the shooting begins, three officers initially respond and run to the classroom door, where there is more gunfire, and the three officers retreat to the end of the hallway and stand behind the corners that provide some cover.
For the next hour-plus, officers congregate and amass in the hallway and then more show up. Heavily armed officers from at least five agencies stand in the hallway that lead to the classrooms. These officers carry dozens of high-powered rifles, handguns, vests, helmets, camouflage gear and shields.
Three officers were there in under five minutes, yet it wasn’t until 77-minutes into the video that officers made a move on the shooter. Two teachers and 19 children were brutally murdered, and now we know exactly what the police were busy doing while that happened: milling about in the hallway, using the hand sanitizer dispenser, making phone calls, sending texts.
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It’s all horrific, but there’s one aspect of the video that will haunt me for a really long time: the words, “Editor’s note: The sound of children screaming has been removed,” in the upper left corner of the video.
It makes sense why the Statesman edited out that audio. It was the right call. The video holds value to the public for shining a light on the failures of local law enforcement, and making that edit (with the disclaimer, which is also very important) helped keep it from turning into a snuff film of sorts. “We consider this too graphic,” reads a line from the paper’s explanation.
People can argue about policies around police funding or the idea that “a good guy with a gun” is the answer to these situations (apparently, more than a dozen “good guys” with “dozens of high-powered rifles, handguns, vests, helmets, camouflage gear and shields” couldn’t stop this one dude with a gun), but that’s not why I’m writing this piece. My views on those topics are immaterial.
No, the reason I’m writing this is that it is yet another example of the police lying to people and the press eagerly passing it along as fact.
I decided to go back and read one of the early reports of the shooting. The Texas Tribune has done some good follow-up work on this story, but it erred in early reports… and even a few not-so-early reports. Here’s how one of those stories began:
Only a locked classroom door stood between Pete Arredondo and a chance to bring down the gunman. It was sturdily built with a steel jamb, impossible to kick in.
He wanted a key. One goddamn key and he could get through that door to the kids and the teachers. The killer was armed with an AR-15. Arredondo thought he could shoot the gunman himself or at least draw fire while another officer shot back. Without body armor, he assumed he might die.
“The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” Arredondo said.
The chief of police for the Uvalde school district spent more than an hour in the hallway of Robb Elementary School. He called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire. When keys arrived, he tried dozens of them, but one by one they failed to work.
“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo said. Finally, 77 minutes after the massacre began, officers were able to unlock the door and fatally shoot the gunman.
This piece, by James Barragán and Zach Despart, was published on June 9, more than two weeks after the shooting. It’s also 100% completely false.
“Only a locked classroom door stood between Pete Arredondo and a chance to bring down the gunman.” This was a flat-out lie. The door was not locked.
“He wanted a key. One goddamn key and he could get through that door to the kids and teachers.” Again, a lie. The door was not locked. They did not try opening the door.
“‘Each time I tried a key I was just praying,’ Arredondo said. Finally, 77 minutes after the massacre began, officers were able to unlock the door and fatally shoot the gunman.” He didn’t try any keys, and while it was 77 minutes before police bothered to confront the shooter, it has absolutely nothing to do with being able to “unlock the door.”
Why was this published? Why was this written like a schlocky action film? Why weren’t Arredondo’s statements fact-checked? Why was a man with a very obvious credibility deficit given space to make himself out to be a hero with virtually zero oversight? Because he was a cop? Is that really it?
This is a problem in media, and it’s got to stop.
This happens constantly, and I’m truly wondering what it will take for local and national news outlets to stop parroting what police officers tell them. Journalists need to do more than simply take people in positions of authority at their word. Why? Is this a matter of journalists having too much work to do? Is it a matter of them trying to be “first” with a story instead of worrying about being correct (though, to be honest, the Texas Tribune story doesn’t really fit that, as it was incorrect and took more than two weeks to come out)? Is it a matter of trying to retain access to police officers and politicians?
No matter the reason, it’s time for journalists to stop. Stop taking police at their word. Stop taking politicians at their word. Stop putting out false information because you’re in a race to get the fastest clicks.
If you can’t do that, then you should not be a journalist. And if not printing police lies causes them to stop communicating with the press, then that becomes a story in itself. Cops, like all people, lie. Journalists need to understand this and need to actually do their damn jobs of finding out what is true before publishing it.
Maybe if the police didn’t think they could so consistently get away with horrific acts and utter incompetence, they’d actually do a better job. Maybe if they didn’t have a boatload of legal loopholes they could hide in, they’d actually do a better job. Maybe if they didn’t get written about like action heroes by lazy journalists, they’d actually do a better job. The problem is the lack of police accountability, and journalists should be working to make them more accountable, not less.
Now we all just have to wonder how many of the children and teachers murdered on May 24 could have been saved had the police in Uvalde not been such pathetic cowards. I hope that for the rest of their lives, the cops who stood in that hallway hearing the sound of those children screaming — that it haunts them. The rest of us don’t have to hear it.
I think police get too much funding, have too many protections for carrying out horrific acts of violence, and absolutely do not believe the “good guy with a gun” argument.