Skateboarding into Victimhood Superstardom

Oh how comforting is the mantle of victimhood, how rosy and flattering is the light that so often shines on those who wear it.  And how willing are some to shine that light no matter how tenuous the claim to victimhood may be.

On August 18, Ronald Weekley Jr., a 20-year-old student at Xavier University, was skateboarding outside his home in Venice, Calif., when he was arrested by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. The term “Venice” may conjure up for you the image of a hip, seaside community, home to movie stars and other celebrities, and indeed there is substance in that image. But there is another side to Venice, one not often seen even by the hipsters who live nearby and patronize the chic restaurants near the beach and on Abbot Kinney Blvd. Mr. Weekley’s arrest took place in the other Venice, the grittier one, near the corner of 6th and Sunset Avenues, about a half-mile from the beach but, with its higher levels of poverty and crime, culturally more akin to South Central Los Angeles than to Venice’s more affluent areas.

Mr. Weekley’s version of events can be summed up thus: He was skateboarding in the street towards his home, and upon reaching his front door he was set upon, completely by surprise and without justification, by four LAPD officers who proceeded to tackle him and beat him to the point that he thought he was “going to die.” The later moments of the Saturday afternoon arrest were captured on a cell phone camera and posted to YouTube, and with the help of some dishonest news reporting, by Monday the victimhood cosmos had brought forth a new star.

I should mention here that Mr. Weekley is black, but perhaps the reader has already inferred that, for if he were not there would likely be no story here at all. Indeed the racial calculus of any incident like this one is often determinative in how the story is covered and for how long. For maximum effect, a black “victim” is the sine qua non.

What is also required is a compliant media. And if some media outlet can take the extra measure of twisting the facts ever so slightly, well, so much the better. Filling that role in the Weekley matter are the reporters and film editors at KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles who produced the video seen here, attached to a story on the Los Angeles Times website. Reporter Jim Nash does his stand-up near the scene of the arrest and unquestioningly repeats allegations of a “beating” and “racial profiling,” and as he does so a total of five protesters – all of them teenage girls, from what I can tell – can be seen over his shoulder. That number swells all the way to eight or so, apparently when others saw the opportunity to appear in the live television shot.

“Here you see the protesters behind us,” says Mr. Nash. “As many as twenty have gathered here to raise their voices against this.”

As many as twenty, you say? Perhaps the outrage in the community doesn’t run all that deeply after all.

Later in the report, Mr. Nash discusses Mr. Weekley’s claimed injuries. “Weekley and his father, Ron Weekley Sr.,” says Mr. Nash, “confirm that he was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where he was found to have a broken nose, broken cheekbone, and a concussion.” In this Mr. Nash accepted as fact Mr. Weekley’s description of his injuries. No documentary evidence or statement from an attending doctor was provided. Had Mr. Nash been more curious about Weekley’s injuries, had he done some minimal level of actual reporting, he would have learned that if Weekley had indeed suffered the injuries he claimed, he would have been admitted into the hospital rather than being cleared for booking into jail. And nowhere in Mr. Nash’s report was it questioned how anyone with injuries like those claimed by Weekley could be as unmarred as he appeared to be in his many post-arrest interviews.

But if that were the worst of KTLA’s disregard for honest journalism it would scarcely be worth mentioning. The real disgrace, the outright manipulation, came when the cell phone video was played. In the video, Weekley can be seen on the ground with four officers over him apparently still trying to restrain him. One officer can be seen punching Weekley in the face or on the head. Though it went unmentioned, KTLA played a version of the video that had been edited to make it appear the officer struck Weekley multiple times. But in the unedited version posted on YouTube, it seems clear that Weekley was punched only once.(Warning: the YouTube video contains abundant vulgar language. Note that none of it comes from the police officers.)