Which of the following sounds like an unjustified homicide? “Police officer kills unarmed teen” or “Police officer kills violent man”?
The first, of course. That’s how many media outlets, including The News Tribune, repeatedly described the Michael Brown death (18-year-old). Ditto the Tony Robinson death in Madison (19-year-old).
Many assume that “unarmed” means harmless. Nonsense. Unarmed people can kill. An unarmed person can also attempt to wrest a gun from a police officer (as Brown did) and then use that gun. In 2002, King County Deputy Sheriff Richard Herzog was killed in this way.
That’s why the media should focus on whether the dead person was dangerous, not armed or unarmed. After incorrectly assuming that “unarmed” means harmless, many will erroneously conclude that any killing of an unarmed person must be unjustified.
In addition, if the male in question is 18 or 19, he should be labeled a “man,” not a “teen.” The key point to relay is that he’s a legal adult, not a child. “Teen” is misleading because it could mean as young as 13.
“Unarmed” and “teen” should be avoided when they provide false impressions, which in turn could lead to riots and unjustified claims of police brutality.