The Media’s Bogus “Unarmed” Narrative

Posted: Oct 14, 2014 9:32 AM

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the October issue of Townhall Magazine. 

Over the past few months we’ve heard an awful lot about the police shooting of “unarmed” teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Before his death, Brown was caught on video in a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store. The video shows Brown was “unarmed” and used his personal strength to push away and assault a store clerk who tried to stop him from stealing a $50 pack of cigars. When Officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown and a friend in the middle of the road, an altercation allegedly occurred.

A caller told Dana Loesch on her radio show that Brown slammed Of- ficer Wilson’s door shut, shoved Wilson back in the car, and eventually went for Wilson’s gun. After a struggle in the car, the gun went off. No one was injured at that point. Brown got out of the car and when Officer Wilson followed him and told him to freeze, Brown mocked him and bum rushed him again, which is when Officer Wilson fired six shots, the last, a head shot, was the lethal blow.

Back in 2012, we heard about a similar case with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by George Zimmerman after an altercation in a crime plagued Florida neighborhood. According to a police report, Zimmerman returned to his SUV after a phone call with police about a suspicious person in the neighborhood. When he returned, Martin allegedly approached him from behind, punched him in the nose when Zimmerman turned around, got him on the ground and started pounding his head into the concrete, an action that can quickly result in death due to brain injury. Zimmerman thought he was going to die and shot Martin in self-defense.

Eyewitnesses corroborated Zimmerman’s story and a jury came to the same unanimous conclusion, acquitting him of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. A separate medical report showed Zimmerman sustained serious injuries from Martin including a broken nose and lacerations to the back of his head.

In extensive media coverage, both of these young men are referred to over and over again as “unarmed” teenagers. The way the media uses the term “unarmed” implies there was no altercation that resulted in a fatal shooting. What the media fails to explain or recognize is that “unarmed” people, in these cases two men who weren’t carrying firearms, don’t have to be “armed” in order to cause serious damage to a person’s life or harm to those around them. 

According to the FBI, more than 600 murders per year are committed with clubs or hammers. Around 900 murders each year are committed with “personal weapons” like hands, fists, and feet. The numbers for severe injury after aggravated assault carried out by a person only armed with their hands and feet are significantly higher, and actually beat out aggravated assaults committed with knives and firearms.

“Of the aggravated assault offenses in 2012 for which law enforcement provided expanded data, 26.8 percent were committed with personal weapons, such as hands, fists, or feet. Firearms were used in 21.8 percent of aggravated as- saults, and knives or cutting instruments were used in 18.8 percent,” FBI crime statistics show.

“The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines aggravated assault as an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. The UCR Program further specifies that this type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or by other means likely to produce death or great bodily harm. Attempted aggravated assault that involves the display of—or threat to use—a gun, knife, or other weapon is included in this crime category because serious personal injury would likely result if the assault were completed.”

When the cases of Martin and Brown hit the wires, pundits and celebrities complained about Zimmerman or Wilson committing “murder” because they didn’t want to get “a little roughed up.” When an attack occurs, the victim doesn’t have the luxury of “waiting to see” if an assailant will stop short of killing them.

The “unarmed” media narrative creates a false moral equivalence between a victim and an attacker. The media definition of armed seems to be someone carrying a firearm or a knife, when in fact people are most often armed with their own hands and feet for aggravated assault, and in other cases, murder.

Perpetuating an “unarmed” narrative extremely distorts the truth and promotes criminals who use them- selves to prey on innocent victims. Being armed doesn’t require carrying a gun, bat, or knife. Hands, feet, and fists are plenty capable of being used to achieve the same goal: severe bodily injury or death.

The media’s “unarmed” narrative is bogus. •