By: Sophie McAdam,
To those of us outside the USA, the no-questions-asked execution of Miriam Carey exposed two chilling American anomalies: trigger-happy cops and corporate journalists who refuse to ask tough questions.
Last Thursday, a respectable 34 year-old dental hygienist was gunned down in front of her baby for failing to stop at a security checkpoint in Washington during the government shutdown. Her reasons for doing so remain unclear, but rather than opening a debate on unchecked federal power, mainstream media has instead focused only on allegations that Carey was mentally ill.
But there are two aspects of this tragic incident that are far more worrying than Carey´s emotional health. One is the shocking ´shoot first, ask questions later´ attitude of US police officers, the other is mainstream media´s complicity to hide facts and divert attention when these abuses of power occur.
In Britain, my home country, police serve the people, not the state, and they don´t routinely carry guns. Assuming Miriam Carey made an honest mistake, the conversation across the pond might have gone something like this:
“Excuse me madam, you can´t pass that barrier, please turn around.”
“Oh, sorry officer, I was a little confused.”
“No problems, have a nice day.”
Instead, cops were given a standing ovation by Congress and immediately lauded as ´heroes´ by the press for killing a woman who could quite easily have been dealt with another way- had those ´brave´ police officers simply employed a few basic social skills. Sadly, I guess American cops don´t get training on how to effectively diffuse situations through old-school communication techniques.
In other (supposedly) civilized Western democracies, there would be absolutely no excuse- ever- to kill an unarmed woman in front of her baby instead of first dealing with the situation in a diplomatic way. Those officers would have been suspended pending an investigation by an independent police complaints commission, and the event would have justifiably sparked anger on the streets, in the press, and even in the corridors of power.
As a mother, I´ve been trying to imagine what I would have done in Carey´s situation as she was stopped at a checkpoint by four armed officers who immediately surrounded her vehicle, jamming their rifles through the car windows and terrorizing her small daughter. While there´s no doubt that speeding away from the scene was a huge mistake on Carey´s part, it´s also probable that her maternal instinct- together with sheer terror at the aggressive reaction of screaming, gung-ho officers- caused her to take flight for little Erin´s safety. One eyewitness has claimed Carey was shot after the baby was removed from her vehicle.
See, the sad truth is that if the police don´t terrify you, you haven´t been paying attention to the chilling number of abuse of power cases by SWAT teams against innocent, supposedly free Americans.
According to Jane Stevens, childhood trauma expert, founder and editor of ACEsTooHigh and ACEsConnection.com: “It doesn’t matter that the baby can’t put words to it. Loud sounds, screaming, fast movements all provoke the startle response, and this was long and drawn out enough to escalate into a traumatic event that will greatly affect that child.” Stevens tells me that Carey´s daughter Erin “is likely to have issues that will appear later in life, and will need constant reassurance and hefty resilience-building.”
So here´s the point: even if Carey had posed a serious threat, surely 44 armed, trained and supposedly professional police officers could have diffused the situation without denying an innocent child its right to a mother? Couldn´t they have shot out her tires? Couldn´t they have arrested her and followed traditional legal processes, y´know, the ones that exist to ensure that citizens get their constitutional right to a fair trial?
Apparently not in the land of the free, where a police spokesperson was quick to deflect tough questions by claiming Carey was suffering from post-partum depression. As usual, the media played ball, obsessing over Carey´s mental health rather than asking why on earth the police were allowed to get away with her murder.
Back up, America. One in four American women uses anti-depressants. A worrying figure, yes, but one which should make Carey´s alleged pill-popping pretty insignificant to the blatant injustice of her fate.
And while Carey´s mother did admit her daughter was suffering from post-partum depression, the same story by ABC quotes Dr. Steven Oken- reported to be Carey´s boss of eight years- describe her as someone who was “always happy”. He added: “I would never in a million years believe that she would do something like this. It’s the furthest thing from anything I would think she would do, especially with her child in the car. I am floored that it would be her.”
To back up the insanity claims, mainstream journalists then fell over themselves to hunt down Carey´s former employer, dentist Brian Evans, who said that Carey had suffered a head injury in a fall while working for him and had later been fired. (Some reports claim for being too rough with the patients, others state Evans is tight-lipped about the reason why.)
So who should we believe? Carey´s friends, sister and employer insist she was ´not political´ , but rather ´friendly, sweet, nurturing, dedicated, professional, and focused´. Miriam Carey sounds like a pretty normal all-American gal to me. And yet in just three days since the fatal shooting, Carey´s mild label of ´depression´ has been replaced by much stronger words such as ´psychosis´and ´delusion´.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the investigation has uncovered “a picture of a mentally disturbed woman.” He said Carey had been treated for schizophrenia, but her family strongly denied it and said she was not dangerous or unstable. They are now calling for justice and police accountability.
The character and reputation of a dead woman who can´t defend herself is being defamed in a grotesquely unethical way. We are expected to believe, contrary to everything her loved ones say about her, that Carey was convinced President Obama was spying on her- an ironic suggestion of insanity in light of the Snowden revelations, but hey, we´re supposed to have forgotten all that by now…
So how would this story have been reported before 9/11, before the world gave up its freedom for security, before the sweeping paranoia of terrorism made us take leave of our senses (not to mention our empathy)?
I started journalism school in the chaotic days following the Twin Tower attacks. A typical training exercise would be to give us one minute to create a headline from a list of story facts. Using the golden rule of newsworthiness, what happened in Washington on Thursday should have provoked front-page spreads along the lines of ´Baby taken, unarmed mother shot dead by police in security breach.´ Anything less and you´d fail the test.
Thursday´s headlines were all variations of the intentionally vague ´Shooting at Capitol Hill´, followed by initial news reports so craftily written that they caused much confusion over who the shooter was- and led many to falsely believe that Carey had fired the first shot.
I´d love for those news reporters, columnists and commentators working for the global media monopolies to stop and ask themselves why they got into this work in the first place. Was it to report the truth and hold those in power accountable to the people and the constitution, or was it was to further your own interests and kiss government ass?
With the exception of those working for independent publications free from shareholder pressure, I´m beginning to think traditional journalism- asking questions, digging for the truth, pissing off the authorities if that´s what it takes- is dead. The mainstream media industry seems to have reached a crisis point, and old-school hacks who believe in truth, factual reporting and holding those in power to account are now in the minority.
The attack on The Guardian´s Glenn Greenwald after the Snowden leaks is a great example of what one writer recently coined The Journalists against Journalism Club. Telling the truth certainly ain´t easy in a world where most of us glean all our information from giant global media monopolies owned by just a handful of powerful billionaires- often with shady ties to government, as I recently investigated here.
Censorship of anything that could prove damaging to the establishment, attention diversion from the bigger picture through obsession and hysteria over trivialities, blind acceptance and regular repetition of official statements by anonymous sources and news agencies, and a complete unwillingness to ask questions on behalf of the public have been standard practice by the big media players for a long time now.
Whether Miriam Carey was mentally ill or not is absolutely irrelevant to the miscarriage of justice that took place on Thursday by the state. What´s more, the sickening lack of compassion for this tragic woman, her traumatized baby and her grieving family in mainstream coverage of the shooting clearly illustrates everything that is wrong with modern mainstream journalism.
I doubt Miriam Carey´s grieving family will ever get the answers they deserve. Like Boston or Navy Yard, nobody seems willing to plug the gaping holes in this story and the whole truth may never be revealed. But for those of us outside the US, what happened in Washington on Thursday adds a whole new element to America´s ongoing gun debate: whether they take your weapons or not, who will protect the people from the trigger-happy cops, and who will tell the truth about it?
Sophie is an award-winning feature writer, investigative journalist, campaigner and author. She is a staff writer for True Activist on issues of peace, justice, society, environment and activism. You can find out more or contact her here.
Note: This article was amended on October 9 to correct a bad link and add a new link to an eyewitness testimony of the event.