7 Straightforward and Completely Unsatisfying Reasons Why No One is Talking About the Shooting of Dylan Noble

You can hear and audio version of this article on There's No Time To Explain Podcast #23 at timecode 04:48

Last week was the sort of week that will be mentioned in history books when, years from now, we discuss the confluence of cell phone video, police brutality, and the ascendancy of the Black Lives Matter movement. Starting with the shooting of Alton Sterling on Tuesday, July 5 by two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, followed very quickly by the shooting of Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by an officer during a traffic stop the next day, each in their own way is a perfect, headline-grabbing example of the systematic over-policing of Black people. Before anyone could catch their breath and process these shootings, the next day, July 7, a group of police officers were ambushed in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter march by a military reservist who killed five officers and wounded another nine officers and two civilians. The man, later assassinated by a bomb delivered by a robot, claimed these shootings were in retaliation for the July 5th and 6th killings of Black men
Another police shooting occurred a few weeks earlier on June 25 and probably no one will study it years from now. On the face of it, it has all the same factors at play as the Sterling and Castille deaths, cell phone video capturing the shooting of an unarmed man by police. Two officers pulled over Dylan Noble after he was seen speeding away from a location where police were responding to a call about a man brandishing a rifle. The police ordered Noble, 19, out of his truck and he was shot four times as officers claimed he was moving his hands toward his waistband and refused to follow commands. A cell phone video, captured at some distance, records the last two shots, as Noble lie on his back on and can be seen moving his hands.
It's too early in the process to know whether any of the families who lost their loved ones during that awful three-day spree will see justice done. What is obvious is that the media reported on and America, by extension, was much more aware of the deaths of Sterling and Castille and hardly anyone is talking about Noble. The pain and suffering Dylan Noble's family and friends are experiencing must be profound, and no amount of media coverage or attention will bring their son back. But how do you explain, in a situation like this, why the media and the nation at large, seem to ignore a shooting like Noble's while two Black men's deaths, in seemingly similar situations, were cause for the nation to weep collectively? I heard this question asked a few times on social media and felt it was a question worth answering. I came up with what I think are the most straightforward reasons why the media won't pick up and run with the story of Dylan Noble's death and why there is no outrage in the way that there is for Sterling and Castille. I accept that these answers offer no consolation to a grieving family, and it is not my intention to apologize on behalf of the news media or Black Lives Matter (they have done nothing wrong thus need no apology) but in my humble estimation here are the straightforward and completely unsatisfying reasons why no one is talking about the shooting of Dylan Noble:
A police shooting in and of itself isn't newsworthy.
Policing is an inherently violent endeavor. It may be American-style policing, as European countries rarely seem to have these problems, but regardless of the roots, in America, as practiced, police are given much authority to demand compliance of citizens and are empowered to use force to achieve that compliance. Guns are standard issue for American police (in Europe they are not) and are often used, as a matter of practice, for more than self-defence, but as a means of bringing a citizen's fear for their lives to bear, sometimes in the most routine of stops and arrests. Given the regular use of force, and the brandishing of guns by police is an accepted part of the job, it stands that there will always be civilian deaths at the hands of police, some justified, some not; some unintentional, some not, but statistically, unremarkable. That somebody somewhere will die at the hands of police is an unavoidable feature of the institution as we have implemented it. That Dylan Noble was shot and killed at the hands of police is, in and of itself, not noteworthy.
One cannot realistically expect national coverage for anything.
The second issue, as I see it is, is given that a police shooting alone isn't news, why should anyone expect media attention, let alone national media attention for such an event? It seems to be an odd thing these days to consider of all the things a grieving family must endure in the days following their loved one's death, lack of media coverage should be one of them. I tune into many sorts of mainstream and non-mainstream news channels and social media feeds, and I learned of Noble's death on a website focused on police brutality, and then looked up the original coverage, which was and continues to be front page news in the locality of Fresno, California. So while national attentions seem to be focused elsewhere, this apparently has become the subject of the area news and those people who specifically report on stories about police abuse.
The video doesn't clearly demonstrate an abuse of power.
The initial cell phone video posted by the local daily newspaper The Fresno Bee shows very little and is at such a distance that it's not clear what is transpiring between the officers and Noble. As I write this, the Fresno Police have released the body cam footage of the officers who shot Noble and upon my viewing of it, it seems that he was non-compliant with the officer's strict commands to raise his hands and lower himself to the ground. He can repeatedly be seen reaching for his waistband, putting his hand under his shirt, and disobeying orders by walking away, then toward the officers. This video was difficult to watch because even knowing the outcome, I found myself saying aloud, "Just listen; why aren't you doing what the officer is asking?" Sadly, Noble's parents will never know what was going through their son's mind as he failed to follow very clear and direct instructions from the officer and, instead, repeated the very intentional motions of someone reaching for a gun in his waistband.
The police seem to be doing everything by the book.
Just because the body cam video of the police apparently validates the story of the cops who shot Dylan Noble, it does not automatically mean the officers were justified in shooting him. To my eye, I take issue with them having guns drawn before they even got out of their patrol car, I find it alarming that this might be standard operating procedure before any threat had been assessed. It turned out that Noble was unarmed, and it hasn't been made clear whether the brandishing call the officers were responding to was related to him at all. This reminds me of the dozens of stories we've all heard over the years of every other person who has been accidentally killed because officers thought they matched the description of some other call. What we know is that the two officers were immediately investigated by Internal Affairs and that investigation is now in the hands of the FBI. If the officers are guilty of wrongdoing, the process that would bring them to justice is likely to work on behalf of Noble's family. I imagine the journalists and media outlets considering this story are of the opinion that the officers were probably justified acting as they did. If there was gross negligence on the part of the officers, the local police department has not made any move to suggest that they would shield their officers from the pursuit of justice. All actors in this story appear to be following standard procedure, and there isn't a whiff of impropriety about this story, and if there is a news story about injustice to be found here, it has not yet been raised.
Current national media attention is focused on the systematic denial of justice to minorities, not about police brutality itself.
Here is where the narrative about race enters the equation. If we accept that policing is inherently violent and deaths are inevitable, the only thing that make those two facts bearable is that the process for seeking justice works on behalf of the families and communities destroyed by police killings, and officers who abuse their power will be charged with the appropriate crimes and punished, removed from service, and be made an example of to other officers. In so many of the cases of unjust deaths of black people at the hands of officers abusing their power, the officers have not been charged nor been found guilty of that crime. This is not a new phenomenon, Black communities being denied justice for their sons and fathers killed at the hands of police officers stretches back decades, right back to a time when Blacks were more worried about being lynched. What is new is the ability for nearly every person to capture video on a cell phone. This has created a slow, but steady assemblage of an undeniable pattern of abuse that is all too easy to dismiss on a case by case basis, but for the culminating statistics and alarming videos which make this issue harder and harder to ignore. The current outrage is not about any one particular Black man being killed by a cop, but each Black person killed by an officer continues to build upon that story. Blacks are nine times more likely to be killed by police as Whites. You either accept the racist proposition that Blacks are nine times as bad and unlawful as Whites and are being killed deservedly, or you have to take a long look at American policing and the institutions we've created based on authority, compliance, and the fear of African American communities and acknowledge that police, intentional or not, have a serious race problem. That is the story that resurfaces every time another black person dies at the hands of police when it's clear they were denied the due process of law. That is the story being told by national media last week. That is not Dylan Noble's story.
BlackLivesMatter-CoverBlack Lives Matter is at civil rights organization, not a police brutality organization
There are many organizations whose focus is on police brutality like Cop Block and National Police Accountability Project. If you look at their social media feeds, you'll see Dylan Noble's story right alongside the stories of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. In many ways, if you are focused on that issue, Dylan Noble's story is just as sympathetic, if a little less cut and dried. But many internet commenters seeking justice for Noble only had one organization to disparage: Black Lives Matter. At vigils for Noble near the place of his death, there were reports of Confederate flags being flown and signs displayed reading, "All Lives Matter," and, the more upsetting "White Lives Matter," a mournful, if spiteful, way to draw attention to the plain fact that Noble's death has drawn sparse national concern. There has been a small flurry of online posts by the internet's commentariat about the lack of media coverage of Noble's deaths compared to the wall-to-wall coverage of the shootings of Sterling and Castille. Black Lives Matter is an organization that formed out of the national outrage over the unjust death of Michael Brown and in the last two years has earned prominence for staging demonstrations and publicity stunts aimed at addressing the systemic inequality and violence suffered by Black people at the hands of the justice system and police. At its core, BLM is a civil rights movement in the tradition of Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers. Yes, the death of Dylan Noble is sad, and it may be that the police shot him unjustly, but his death is simply not a civil rights issue and would no sooner be taken up by BLM as any other crime or killing unrelated to civil rights. BLM has perfected their ability to grab national headlines, and justifiably did so to decry the deaths of Sterling and Castille but like any organization operating at their level, they must stay on message. While it's unlikely that the organization proper would choose to engage their followers on the case of Dylan Noble, it's evident that many BLM devotees are following the story and offering words of support and solidarity on social media. We can be sure of one thing, if BLM, by focusing the attention of the nation, changes the procedures and policies of the police such that unintended and accidental deaths for Blacks decline, you can be sure those same best practices, when applied in good faith, will save White lives too.
1963 March on Washington insert 1 by-Rowland Scherman for USIA courtesy Still Picture Records Section Special Media Archives Services DivisionConservative White communities don't have a decades-old tradition of organizing outrage over injustice.
It deserves to be mentioned that African American communities have a tradition of organizing their people to speak out against injustice by demonstrations, marches, protests, public spectacle and, yes, riots that reaches back decades. This is a tradition that hardly has any "white" equivalent, at least not in conservative enclaves. The sad truth is that given the sustained and systemic inequality of Black Americans, unrest has been instrumental in seeking any concessions from the American justice system. From freedom from slavery, to voting, to desegregation, to fair and just treatment from police, Blacks have never been given equality as a matter of course, but rather, have only glimpsed it by collectively demanding it as loudly as possible for as long as it takes. To be frank, the reason these methods haven't taken hold in most polite society is that by and large the establishment of justice works for White Americans, statistically speaking. When it does not work, as may be the case for Dylan Noble, those examples tend to be far and few between. The need to protest, demonstrate, and organize would subside if the system worked on behalf of African Americans in the same way it works for Whites. Plainly spoken, when a White person is shot by the police, most White people assume it was deserved until they learn otherwise. The exact opposite is true of the African American experience.
To answer the question I heard over and over in the days following Dylan Noble's death, "Where is the outrage?" I say, "You are the outrage." For those looking to others to validate their sense of injustice, you are the voices the world needs to hear. If you knew Dylan, if you loved him, if you identify with him, talk about that; spend whatever short and precious media attention you have talking about your feelings, your reactions. Don't waste a moment worrying about what others may have. You know your struggle alone, and none of us are in a position to speak to what other ought to do. I can't imagine that Sterling and Castille's families' grief is alleviated one bit by the fact that American knows their story. I am certain that no reason I've offered up here will impart any bit of consolation or make you feel any better. I want you to understand that Dylan's story is being heard, and people outside the bubble of Fresno know his name, and I am devastated by the lost of another young man at the hands of police. I share the general feeling that the policing system is broken, and I object to the overly authoritarian practices that police have adopted as a matter of standard practice, but we each seek justice in our own way. I hope one day you can appreciate that BLM is fighting the same fight as you, just in their own way. While it may seem incongruous to see the nation captivated by other's deaths and wonder why they don't grieve for yours the same, what is important is you seek the comfort and solace of those close to you and find a way to honor his memory as you knew him. I'm sorry for your loss, and my heart goes out to your family.