Above the Fold

Chris Burgess, 16

Zachary Cooke, 18

Cheri Moore, 48

Jonni Kiyoshi Honda, 51

What do all of these people have in common?

I recently spent some time with my friend Tallie, who has been doing AmeriCorps in Eureka for the last year. While we were hanging out, she offhandedly mentioned the “police shootings” in Eureka. Not having heard about anything of the sort, I asked her for clarification. It turns out that in the last 14 months, Eureka police have been involved in four shootings, which seems a bit excessive for such a small town.

Chris Burgess was shot like a dog in a gully. The police were trying to track him down since he was violating probation, and the boy fled for cover, ending up in a ravine. Because he had a knife, the police apparently felt that shooting him multiple times was justified. In this highly biased article, we learn that his mother is suing the city.

Zachary Cooke was shot 11 times in what sounds like a chaotic situation (and a possibly justified shooting). A police investigation of a series of armed robberies yielded an abandoned house with multiple people. A shotgun was fired, the police fired back, and Cooke died. Not knowing the circumstances, I cannot say for certain, but this sounds like a situation in which the police really did need to fire.

Cheri Moore was a 48 year old mentally ill woman. She was clearly seriously disturbed, and apparently the police felt that it was necessary to shoot her multiple times rather than addressing her unique situation. An inquest recommended that a task force be established to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.

Honda was shot nine times after aiming a weapon at a police officer. Police were generally commended for their actions in the case, which included hours of negotiation before the shots were fired.

I was really shocked to learn about this. I was also deeply disturbed that the news had not been more widely reported. This is major news, kids, and this should make you really angry. It also appears to be angering the community—local Buddhists wrote a letter calling for review of the police department…and a police shooting occurred between the time the letter was sent and when it was made public! Members of the community are calling for a rational discussion of the events, but the police department is apparently not engaging in community outreach.

What is going on here? Are we so jaded as a society that four police shootings in a population of 26,000 is unremarkable? When I searched the Chron’s archives, not a single article pertaining to the shootings came up. When the newspaper of record for Northern California fails to mention news, it dies, never reaching the outside world. I would never have known about these police shootings if I hadn’t been talking to a friend, and you, in turn, would not have found out if it was not for her. The Press Democrat has two brief articles, one on the Moore case and one on the Honda case, reporting the bare facts.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me rather angry. I want to see more scrutiny of these cases, and of the Eureka police department in general. I feel like a good way to accomplish that is to share this information with other people, so that they can get angry too. We should not, as a society, being tolerating things like this. And we should also not be tolerating bad reporting. Today, the above the fold headline of the Press Democrat was about a celebrity’s unwillingness to go to jail. This is not news. This does not impact my life, or society. It is an item for the back pages of the entertainment section, not the front page. Police shootings are news, and they should be thrust to the forefront of newspapers. I wrote the Democrat in protest, because I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves for passing that tripe off as front page news. A newspaper is supposed to serve the public, providing vital information about issues which influence our lives and culture. And if we don’t know about something, we cannot speak out about it. Is that, perhaps, why this issue has not been reported in more Northern California newspapers?

The area above the fold of a newspaper used to be reserved for major breaking news. When is four police shootings in 14 months not major breaking news?

[police shooting]