Magicians rely on the principle of misdirection to create the effect of amazing powers. Get your audience to look one place while you slip the coin into your pocket with the other hand and they will be astounded.
Our local law enforcement leaders seem to be using the same principle on the Albuquerque public, abetted in their effort to no small degree by the (pick one: gullible or compliant) local news media outlets.
Last week’s coverage of two stories highlights the way that, in this instance, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office works hard to keep our attention focused on one “menace” while surreptitiously blinding us to a far more insidious (and dangerous) one.
The GANG WAR RAID headline (using a font size and typeface usually reserved for Pearl Harbor, a cure for cancer and the 9/11 attack) practically leaped out at me off the front page of my Thursday evening Tribune when I fished it out of its plastic bag and a rain puddle near our front stoop.
“Good grief!” I thought as I breathlessly scanned the piece for casualty figures. “A gang war right here in River City!”
There, below that bold, black heading, was a picture of two of Bernalillo County’s finest, weapons at the ready, apparently engaged in some type of firefight with hardened elements of our town’s most dangerous lowlifes.
And in the next column (still on the front page, above the fold) there was a box explaining that I could watch (yes, actually watch) video footage of today’s raid, already available at the Trib’s website!
This was clearly a tightly orchestrated war being waged on our toughest gangsters—
Embarrassingly, the Tribune persisted with its misdirection the following day, running yet another sensationalized front-page story (“Gang raid called success”) repeating practically verbatim the slim results of this all-out raid: two arrest warrants served. Then it turned out one of those suspected gang members was already in the sheriff’s custody, an inmate being held at the County Jail.
Thus the total take from the “war” so far has been a single gang member arrested.
This solitary 18-year-old was shown in handcuffs being walked from squad car to courtroom so often on local news programs that if I hadn’t read the story on the front page I would have concluded that a veritable army of gangsters had been rounded up by our well-armed troops. But no, it was just this one guy. Plus the one who was already in custody prior to the raid.
I could have written this entire phony “war story” off as yet another grab for attention by our incumbent media-savvy sheriff (hey, he prepared for his current position at, among other places, TV-13, where he embedded as a reporter covering the local crime beat) if I hadn’t stumbled on the “rest of the story” Saturday morning in the Journal.
It was an easily overlooked piece titled “Suit Over Protest Headed for Trial” and was buried deep, deep, deep in the D section of the Saturday morning Journal. Buried deeply--as in two inches of print and a tiny headline, unobtrusively hiding out next to that fascinating and critical feature “Road Warrior,” which details traffic hazards around town.
There I found the only report, the sole, teensy dollop of information available in town about a far more important crime caper than the imaginary gang war raid that wasted 60 or more column inches of newsprint.
A federal judge has ruled that the civil rights lawsuit filed by antiwar protesters against our local law enforcement agencies should not be thrown out but should be heard in a full trial.
The claims that our cops and our sheriff’s deputies might have violated federal laws guaranteeing free speech, free association and other civil protections by the way they chose to break up a demonstration against the Iraq invasion near the UNM campus in 2003 were found to have enough merit to justify going to trial.
Classic misdirection technique. “Watch out! Dangerous gangs over there! See ’em? Right there, just past that mirage of an oasis.” And hope, meanwhile, that no one notices the demonstrably more tangible danger of a rogue law enforcement community conspiring to stomp out political dissent.
Does it bother you the way it bothers me when our reporters and our policemen become so chummy and so cooperative that the citizenry can no longer trust the reporters to keep the cops honest or law enforcement to act without regard for the publicity generated?
We don’t have public oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, and our civilian oversight of APD is rudimentary at best. In that vacuum, we desperately need a Fourth Estate that actually serves as a brake on police excess.
What we seem to have instead is a PR agency for all police endeavors; a cheering squad for fake raids on gangs and a propaganda mill suppressing information about civil rights violations.
Keeping public anxiety levels high with lurid stories sells papers and generates advertising revenue for television stations. It propels loser gang-bangers into folk heroes inside their tiny world. But it fulfills no valid civic purpose.