Novelist, screenwriter, podcaster, and all-around sage Andrew Klavan has taken to referring to the New York Times as a “former newspaper.” The Times, he says, clings to the pretense of news reporting while pursuing other ends, to wit, the advancement of the leftist ideology shared by the paper’s writers, editors, and management. Seldom does a week go by that Klavan, in his writing or on his podcast, doesn’t provide justification for his low opinion of what once was known as America’s Newspaper of Record. And, he admonishes, while it’s important to pay attention to what’s included in the paper’s stories, it’s often more important to ask what’s been left out.
I offer as the next exhibit in Klavan’s catalog of evidence a recent Times story concerning the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer in the death of Justine Damond. The May 3 story’s headline asks the portentous question: “A Black Officer, a White Woman, a Rare Murder Conviction. Is It ‘Hypocrisy,’ or Justice?”
It’s the New York Times, of course, so we know this is not really a question at all, and that it can only be hypocrisy that explains why Noor, a black Muslim immigrant from Somalia, is being punished for killing a white woman while white and Hispanic officers have escaped similar consequences for killing black men. And, lest you still entertain the notion that this could be an unbiased news story, consider that it was written by John Eligon, whose bio informs us he is “a national correspondent covering race,” and that he “documents the nuances of America’s struggle with race issues, from the protest movement over police violence to the changing face of the nation’s cities and suburbs.”
Just as a man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, only someone committed to finding a racial angle, say, someone who makes a living at it, will see one in the horrific death of Justine Damond. Recall that in July 2017 Damond called the Minneapolis Police Department to report what she believed may have been a sexual assault taking place near her home, and that it was Noor and another officer who responded. After the officers drove down the alley behind Damond’s home, she approached their police car in the apparent hope of speaking with them. Noor shot her, firing across his partner and through the open driver’s side window. At his trial, Noor testified that he perceived Damond to be a threat after hearing a “bang” and seeing her approach the opposite side of the car.
I devoted two columns to the incident, the first appearing shortly after it occurred, the second several months later. In both of them I wrote that I could not imagine a persuasive defense for Noor’s apparent recklessness. “Noor is headed to prison,” I wrote on July 24, 2017, “and deserves it.” The jury agreed.
And yet, Mr. Eligon delivers a “news” story raising the question of whether Noor was treated fairly. “Some saw a system and a society that was quick to embrace and sympathize with Ms. [Damond],” writes Eligon in describing public reaction to the shooting, “a benefit that black victims rarely enjoy.” And which black “victims” does he refer to? One is Philando Castile, who in July 2016 was shot and killed by a St. Anthony, Minn., police officer during a traffic stop. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was charged with manslaughter and acquitted by a jury, a verdict that was, as I wrote at the time, completely reasonable.
Another black “victim” named by Eligon is Jamar Clark, who in November 2015 scuffled with paramedics and police officers, one of whom, evidence showed, he attempted to disarm. And another is Thurman Blevins, who in June 2018 was shot and killed by police after fleeing from them while armed with a handgun. Honest people can debate the propriety of any of these shootings, but there can be no dispute that the conduct of these “victims” is easily distinguished from that of Justine Damond, who was neither armed nor resisting arrest when she was killed.
Easily distinguished to most people, I should say, but not to Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and activist in Minneapolis who is quoted in the story. “This is an anomaly based on the race of the officer, and the race and affluence of the victim,” she said. “The system treats African-Americans and white people differently, whether they are the victim in a police-involved shooting case or whether they are the police officer. This is absolutely outrageous.”
Expressing a similar opinion, predictably, was Waheid Siraach, a former police officer and a founder of the Somali-American Police Association. “The only difference is that the officer involved in the shooting in this case happened to be a black Muslim immigrant, and the deceased person is a Caucasian lady. People can put the two and two together.”
Mike Freeman, the prosecutor for Hennepin County, was quoted to present an opposing view. “Mr. Freeman argued that the details in those cases were different from those in the shooting of Ms. [Damond],” writes Eligon. “Each case is handled on its own merits, he said, and the facts showed that Mr. Noor, who was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department after the shooting, had acted unreasonably.”
Also quoted was Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Federation of Minneapolis, the city’s police union, who defended the organization’s role in assisting Noor. But both Freeman’s and Kroll’s statements are presented with what amounts to a tacit wink, as if telling the reader, “Well, of course that’s what they’re going to say.” No independent attorney or police use-of-force expert was presented in the story.
But none of this is to say there isn’t a racial component in this case, it’s just not the one the New York Times chooses to examine. In September 2018, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on “red flags” that were raised before Noor was hired as a police officer and during his training period. “Noor was flagged by two psychiatrists during the pre-hiring evaluation in early 2015,” reported the Star Tribune, “after he exhibited an inability to handle the stress of regular police work and unwillingness to deal with people, according to the records.”
Was Noor hired and retained by the Minneapolis Police Department because the city’s leaders were so eager to employ someone of his ethnic background that they were willing to overlook the troubling reports from the psychiatrists? To this question, a genuine question of race, the New York Times has displayed no curiosity at all. Will Mr. Eligon’s editors dispatch him to Minneapolis to look into the “nuances” the question raises? They will not, because the New York Times is a former newspaper.