Skateboarding into Victimhood Superstardom

Mr. Weekley and his supporters also claim that he was beaten while handcuffed. Inconveniently for them, the unedited video does not support this. The officer’s punch comes at around the 0:22 mark in the tape, at a time when it appears Weekley is still struggling. Not until the 0:50 mark can an officer be seen reaching for his handcuffs. The action is momentarily blocked as the camera moves from one side of a police officer to the other, but by the 1:00 mark it appears Mr. Weekley is restrained, after which it’s all over but the shouting. And there was lots and lots of shouting, but again not by the police. None of this was mentioned in Mr. Nash’s report on KTLA.

A credulous Mr. Nash passed along without challenge some of the more inflammatory claims made by Weekley, and he spoke with a witness whose account Nash seemed to believe bolstered Weekley’s version of events. But did it?

Cutting to a shot of the witness, Mr. Nash characterizes her account in a voice-over. “This longtime neighbor, Ernestine Anderson, tells KTLA Five she witnessed the entire incident,” says Mr. Nash, “and never saw Weekley strike or fight the officers.” So the use of force on Weekley was unjustified, right?

But then Ms. Anderson tells us what she saw. “And I saw [the officers] trying to bring [Weekley] down, and they couldn’t bring him down because he stiffened his body up.”

In other words, Mr. Weekley resisted the officers’ attempt to detain him. And though Mr. Weekley had committed what some might see as a trivial traffic violation on his skateboard, the officers had every right to question him about it and issue him a citation if they had chosen to do so. Rather than accepting the ticket or the talking-to that was coming – and it probably wouldn’t have amounted to more than that – Mr. Weekley tried to make it to the doorway of his apartment, as though passing over the threshold conferred on him some kind of magic immunity from answering for the traffic violation.

Thus what should have been a brief and routine stop changed into an arrest, a use of force, and a call for outrage, all thanks to Mr. Weekley’s decision to run away. (This decision was perhaps influenced by Mr. Weekley’s three outstanding arrest warrants.) Add to this a dishonest news report and you have the antecedents for trouble in the neighborhood. Incredibly, Mr. Nash’s report on the matter the following day (available here, on the L.A. Times website) showed the same edited videotape, and again neither Mr. Nash nor the anchors mentioned how the editing distorted what actually occurred. It’s bad enough that it was done once, but when the station repeated the lapse the only conclusion to be drawn is that they wish to see the controversy continued and escalated. Why merely report the news when you can influence it?

Compare the KTLA report with this one from rival KTTV Channel 11. Note that KTTV’s reporter, Lauren Sivan, while appearing sympathetic to Mr. Weekley’s claims of police abuse, takes care to inform viewers that the version of the video being shown had been edited, with the single punch shown multiple times.

Mr. Weekley and his family are enjoying their new status as celebrities, staging press conferences and protests in front of their home and receiving support from members of the local grievance industry, some of whose members are of dubious character. Najee Ali, for example, a man never found far away from any racial controversy in Southern California (that is when he’s not locked up himself), has been perched on the Weekley doorstep since the case hit the news. Mr. Ali, formerly known as Todd Eskew, was once a member of the Crips street gang and has been convicted of multiple felonies, including robbery, hit-and-run, and, most recently, of attempting to bribe witnesses in a 2007 case involving his daughter. He promotes himself as the director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., an organization which, as far as anyone can tell, claims Mr. Ali not only as director but as its only member.

Also turning out in support of Mr. Weekley is Tony Muhammad, western regional director for noted antisemite Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, perhaps best known to LAPD officers for having escaped prosecution after scuffling with cops in South Central L.A. back in 2005.  It’s interesting to note that Mr. Ali once accused Mr. Muhammad’s bodyguards of roughing him up at a news conference.

But petty rivalries can be put aside when there’s grievance-mongering to be done, and the mongering has been going full tilt all week, fueled at least in part by KTLA’s transparently manipulative and inflammatory reporting.

Recall that in the March 1991 arrest of Rodney King, it was an edited videotape that led to the widespread belief that the LAPD officers who arrested Mr. King had beaten him without cause and would be convicted of the criminal charges brought against them.  When the jury in those officers’ trial, having viewed the unedited version of the tape, declined to convict the officers, it led to days of rioting that saw 53 people killed and wide swaths of Los Angeles put to the torch.

In reporting the Weekley story as it has, have the people at KTLA revealed a desire for an equally dramatic outcome? It would be good for people in the news business, but terrible for everyone else.