Chicago faces again the reality of a fatal shooting of a young person by the police.
Videos released Wednesday by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Chicago Police Department show the murder of 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez by a Chicago police officer on March 31st.
Less than two weeks ago, COPA and CPD released videos showing the death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. He, too, was shot dead by police just two days before Alvarez died.
Videos of Toledo’s murder have been treated in different ways in the media. Block Club Chicago released two versions of its story: one with a video of the shoot and one without. Tracy Brown, editor-in-chief of WBEZ, told the Washington Post that her organization had decided not to post the videos or to use the audio on the air. She said, “These are not moments that we want to normalize in our reporting – or page views that we would be proud of. Many local and national television stations that broadcast the video on the police camera froze it the moment before Toledo was hit by gunfire and chose not to include scenes of the shooting itself and the immediate aftermath in Little Village Alley show in which he died.
Every news organization needs to decide how best to handle sensitive material when reporting a story and sharing its findings. The above examples are valid methods of doing this, and deciding what to show and how is one of the most difficult and critical decisions we make as journalists. We believe it is important to explain the choices we made and why.
We understand that these videos can be traumatizing. We know that in some parts of the city residents distrust law enforcement agencies. Many people see themselves or their family members or friends in the faces of Adam Toledo or Anthony Alvarez or Laquan McDonald or George Floyd. We have reported on the psychological aspects of dealing with such trauma, not only on Chicago Tonight, but also on Latino Voices and Black Voices, as well as on our website.
Even so, we took a different approach to using these images.
On April 15th, with full warning, we broadcast a longer section of the police camera video, which shows Toledo’s recordings in real time, including unedited audio. We decided not to freeze the video before Toledo was shot because we believe that this removes the horror of the incident, even though we blurred his face for part of the video to preserve his humanity. It is not our intention to terrify the audience, but rather to show the reality of how Toledo died. Showing the moment Toledo falls to the ground – and showing the police officers’ reaction immediately afterwards – gives our audience a broader view of the story. We haven’t and are not planning to use these enhanced clips on the air since April 15th.
The 1955 murder of a 14-year-old Chicago boy in Mississippi was a pivotal moment in American racial relations and a catalyst for the civil rights movement. The story of Emmett Till became widely known because his mother had bravely decided to hold an open coffin funeral and allow Jet magazine to publish photos of her son’s disfigured body. These photos told a terrible story that no written description could.
With Till in mind, we aired extended clips of Toledo’s murder earlier this month. And that’s why we’re going to be broadcasting videos showing the fatal shots at Alvarez, with warnings and time to allow viewers to close their eyes or change channels. We’ll be tagging the video itself with a warning to anyone who is running late.
This is not about judging police actions. It’s not about judging victims. It’s about getting the fullest possible picture of what happened and what the police did before and after these deadly events and then, as always, letting our audience decide what to do with it.