Commentary: When Media Cover Donald Trump Before Sandra Bland

LAREDO, TEXAS - JULY 23: Republican Presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump talks to the media at a press conference during his trip to the border on July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. Trump's recent comments, calling some immigrants from Mexico as drug traffickers and rapists, have stirred up reactions on both sides of the aisle. Although fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has denounced Trump's comments and his campaign in general, U.S. Senator from Texas Ted-Cruz has so far refused to bash his fellow Republican nominee. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)

Commentary: When Media Cover Donald Trump Before Sandra Bland

Several news outlets ditched the autopsy press conference for the presidential candidate.

Published July 24, 2015

It was Thursday afternoon and Texas officials had just begun a news conference to reveal the details of a much anticipated autopsy report.

Family members of Sandra Bland had been pressing police for information about her arrest and death at the Waller County Jail. Activists had pushed her name to trend on Twitter for days. And reporters had begun to cover the suspicious death of the Illinois woman who died after being arrested in Texas for a petty traffic violation.

Then came the interruption. "We are going to pull away from this right now," CNN's anchor announced. "I just want to pivot to Donald Trump there about to speak." At the same time, MSNBC made the call to interrupt its coverage of the first Texas news conference for other "Breaking News" out of Texas. "We want to go right now to Donald Trump, who is on the border. Let's listen in now."

The dueling Texas press conferences ended when Trump strode to the bank of microphones with a white baseball cap bearing the words "Make America Great Again." Just as a forensics specialist was busy peddling the implausible victim-shaming narrative that portrayed Sandra Bland as a weed head who couldn't afford bail but had the connections to smuggle marijuana into her jail cell, the media couldn't stop itself from covering the farcical campaign stunts of a man they all know will never be president.

It was also this week when CNN's Anderson Cooper sat down for what seemed like a thousand different interviews with Trump, including one in which he asked the billionaire presidential candidate about the Sandra Bland video. Trump condemned Texas Trooper Brian Encinia's demeanor as "terrible" and "overly aggressive," and both those quotes were widely re-reported in the media.

Trump's critique of the officer's behavior was correct, and some praised his remarks, as in "even Donald Trump thinks Sandra Bland's arrest was unacceptable." Yes, Trump was right, but, in my judgment, he got too much credit for stating the obvious while ignoring the larger structural issues that empowered the officer in the first place.

When asked by Anderson Cooper if these bad policing incidents happen more often to African-Americans, Trump simply replied "I hope not." Then Cooper asked again. "I hope it doesn't but it might," Trump said the second time. Then, as he continued, Trump finally added more context. "The answer is it possibly does. It shouldn't. And it's very sad," he said.

It possibly does?

A study last year found young Black men were shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men. Another study found Black men were at least six times more likely than their white counterparts of being incarcerated. And in Trump's own hometown of New York City, 83 percent of people detained by police under the unconstitutional "stop-and-frisk" rules were Black or Hispanic.

Trump's lack of awareness about these statistics is not surprising. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many observers tend to view tragic news stories about victims like Sandra Bland, Eric Garner or Michael Brown as isolated incidents rather than a part of a larger pattern of racial profiling.

Many of those willing to condemn a single incident of police abuse of power fail to connect the dots to the larger problem of police power. Trump, for example, couched his criticism of the Texas officer in the context of his support for law enforcement. "I'm a huge fan of the police. I think the police have to be given back power," Trump said.

Given back power? Who ever took it away from them? The problem is the police are too powerful as it is, with too much discretion, making them judge, jury and executioner. That's precisely why a Texas cop could force a woman out of her car because she refused to put out her cigarette in her own vehicle. Or why a New York cop could strangle a man on the sidewalk for the alleged crime of selling cigarettes. Or why a Ferguson cop could shoot a teenager on the street for the petty crime of stealing cigarillos.

Yes, I get it. Donald Trump is entertaining, and he should be covered as a top Republican presidential candidate. But here's the problem. When the gold-plated Trump media circus finally leaves town — which it will, whether next month or next year —  we will shovel up the mess he left behind and move on. But Black Americans will still be victims of racial profiling, disproportionate arrests, mass incarceration and police-involved shooting deaths. That's the story the media should be covering first.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Matthew Busch/Getty Images)

Written by Keith Boykin


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