I post articles to Facebook.
Optimistically, I like to think that I’m helping to inform people. I mostly post stories I read about foreign affairs, a topic I find very important and yet rarely discussed in my community. Stuff like the recent conflict on the India-China border, for example.
However, with the domestic world in the state it is, I’ve been posting stories about the recent protests. I also share op-eds and the like too, but only when they are substantiated. In a conversation about the protests, I posted an opinion someone had shared about K9 units that argued, essentially, that K9 units are abusive because a dog cannot consent to being turned into a law enforcement tool and that, moreover, the unit puts those in the dog’s path of extreme danger of injury.
This was not a mistake. I stand by the post. Dialogue, I feel, is the bedrock of democracy. And where better to have dialogue than with your family, the group which plays for many of us the foundational role in forming our political, moral and social philosophies.
My relatives, evidently, disagree.
One of my cousins is married to a K9 officer.
Immediately I was met with vitriol. This was to be expected. My relative said she didn’t want me around her kids and called me dangerous and disrespectful. Truth be told, the threat didn’t land because I never see them anyway, but nevertheless it stung that she resorted to threats rather than dialogue.
I expressed my frustration, as a reporter, at seeing the 400 and counting journalists who have beenarrested, injured and otherwise harassed by police in these protests. I talked about freedom of speech, and the press’s role in a democracy.
Then came what shocked me the most.
My aunt, her mother, posted another comment where she thought, presumably, I wouldn’t see it. I will skip the details for the sake of brevity, but the core of her retort was to call young people and journalists who want to record the police “entitled and disrespectful under the guise of ‘Freedom of Speech.’”
I write about this not to drag my family squabble into the public or to try and get pity. I struggled with justifying whether to do this at all. I write this because the dynamic illustrated by my story is one common in our democracy and it is one I find extremely damaging. It is, as I see it, an aversion to dialogue as a result of misunderstanding the role of authority.
This breakdown in dialogue is rampant online. In any given hour, I can find dozens of posts in my feed vilifying the media. I commonly see calls for reporters to simply stop filming cops, calling it disrespect. I see those reporting on the abuses of power called entitled snowflakes.
This mirrors the language used by my relatives: “lazy, entitled, and disrespectful.”
The role of journalism in a democracy is to find the truth of a social issue and to inform the people of this truth so they may engage in dialogue. Right now the truth is that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed extra-judicially by police officers and that these killings are symptomatic of larger problems ofinherent violence in the American method of policing.
I ask what is disrespectful in sparking dialogue that is critical of a person’s profession. I believe criticism is the basis of respect—it means you respect the other enough to believe they can engage in a dialogue over your grievance. When my leftist friends say the news media is too accepting of official narratives, I take this not as disrespect but as the highest respect. The criticism of my profession says they believe I am capable of dialogue and make a change in light of it.
Then there is the issue of entitlement. Is it entitled to refuse to stop recording an officer? Maybe, but only because it is a right everyone is literally entitled to under the First Amendment. It is a justified entitlement under the law. Now, an officer asking someone to give up their constitutional rights because they feel a little uncomfortable being recorded by the people who pay their salaries? If I didn’t think Fight Club references are too played out, I’d call this the behavior of a real entitled snowflake.
I don’t know how to fix this large-scale misunderstanding of authority I see. Maybe it can’t be—psychological research shows one-third of any given population are authoritarians, meaning they see respect for authority as absolute deference. That isn’t respect though, that is fear. Respect is wanting those in authority to do better and asking them to do better because we believe they are capable of it.
As a reporter, I will always search for truth. When the truth is that some of those in positions of power are abusing their authority, I will never hide that truth. I’d like to say we can find a way for the authoritarians in our society, but if we can that’s a problem for the social scientists among us to solve. I can only continue to search the truth no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
And I’ll still be posting articles on Facebook.