Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 14, 2014

About the Photo (I Mean, Photos) of the Undercover Cop Pulling His Gun on Oakland Protesters

I’ve got a question about the photo of the undercover Highway Patrol cop in Oakland pulling his gun on civil rights demonstrators after being outed as undercover. Was it a failure of nerve on the part of so many photo editors not to run the version of him using his weapon to directly threaten a news photographer? The version below is the one that circulated far and wide. Both photos show the partner subduing a citizen alleged to have accosted him along with citizens pointing the cops out out while the second shot, besides the white cop’s profile, of course, features a biker seeming to demand caution:

Professionally, it’s a question sure to attract the answer that, news-wise, this is just “the better picture.” But what is that based on? the fact that you and I aren’t in the line of sight? Or the policeman simply defending themselves? If we’re talking about the risks and ethical consequences of the cops in hooded sweatshirts and bandannas infiltrating a demonstration, however, or how little difference it offers between the troublemakers and the cops dressed like troublemakers, which is the more descriptive picture? Or from another angle, given how little weight the media carries with the police these days in the midst of a protest or how much weight the camera carries, maybe the first shot is, in fact, too much better?

(Update: just to clarify, the photo of the officer pointing his weapon at the photographer was taken by a freelancer for the SF Chronicle and published by the Chronicle.)

(photo: Michael Short / Special To The Chronicle. caption: An under cover officer points his gun at the crowd while his partner subdues a protester who struck him in the back of the head, as demonstrations continue for a fifth night in Oakland on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.)

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