Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
August 4, 2015

Killer Cop Arraigned in Cincinnati (Confused by How Much Social Media Thrives on Shame)

Court officers look on as former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, left, appears at Hamilton County Courthouse for his arraignment in the shooting death of motorist Samuel DuBose. Tensing, who was indicted and fired from his job on Wednesday, shot and killed Dubose on July 19 after stopping him over a missing license plate.

You might say that this wire photo does everything you could ask, right?

Coming before a judge for his arraignment for gunning down the motorist, Samuel DuBose, the faces of these officers mirror the utter despicability felt by so many toward U. of Cincinnati campus cop, Ray Tensing. (DuBose’s friends and relatives were also in attendance.)

Is it possible, though, that the main move here actually blurs the larger story?

More and more these days, what concerns me is the power and the tendency of social media  — like a one-trick pony, and also like an air strike — to mete out shame. And in this case, it’s nearly impossible to recognize it as a complication because of how perfectly the shoe fits.

One thing the shaming obscures is the extreme moral contrast between Tensing and the cops. On one hand, the headless jailbird is so despised, he is more than we can look at. One the other hand, well … the officers replace the judge. Notice also how the photo creates a symbiosis between the black cop and the white cop. Equally repulsed by the site of Tensing, what’s perceived as a united front largely erases race or racial disparity from the story telling. Condemned by the white cops and the black cop alike, and with no (emotional) diversity between the two, it’s inferred here by elimination that Tensing’s action was more a personal anomaly.

And, what’s the problem with that, again? Well, if we get swept away by the intimation here that Tensing is a monster, what we’re losing is the sense that what he did was symptomatic of the culture in the right two-thirds of the picture. Put another way, what falls from the frame is the allegation that Tensing’s instinct to target a black man and just willfully open fire is more reflective of the other uniform.

…Because, that lawyer aside, there’s no one else in this picture but police.

(photo: John Minchillo/AP. caption: Cincinnati: Court officers look on as former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing appears for his arraignment in the shooting death of motorist Samuel DuBose.)

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