The term “officer-involved shooting” sets a dangerous precedent

A state trooper in Maryland shot a 16-year old man. ABC News described it as an “trooper-involved fatal shooting” — as if it somehow happened by itself with no agency on the part of the trooper.

You can argue about whether the shooting was justified — since the person who was shot was wielding a knife and pointed a fake gun at the trooper, I’m not surprised that the trooper shot him.

My problem is not with the trooper, it is with the ABC News article.

Here’s the tweet that promoted it:

Why would you write “trooper-involved fatal shooting” when you could just write “a trooper shot and killed a 16-year-old”? The wording doesn’t make it any better or easier to understand. Either way, we want to know why the trooper shot the guy and whether it was justified. And this isn’t the police writing the article — it’s a reporter named Rosa Sanchez.

The article title is worded normally, but the lede once again repeats the bizarre “trooper-involved fatal shooting” language.

Maryland state trooper fatally shoots 16-year-old after responding to reports of an armed man

Peyton Ham was allegedly carrying an airsoft gun and a knife.

Maryland State Police are investigating a trooper-involved shooting in Leonardtown that ended in the death of a 16-year-old.

Here’s what the AP Stylebook says about how to describe police shooting people — advice every journalist should follow:

In this case we know who shot whom and why. So just say it.

How would the news read if it was all written this way?

They say that any noun can be verbed — although it probably shouldn’t be. But in these shootings, we learn that any verb can be adjectived and nouned. (If you ever catch me saying that again, any subsequent officer-involved shootings of me are probably justifiable.)

Police who shoot people for whatever reason, whether justified or not, are not part of “officer-involved shootings” — unless confusion is your goal. If they shoot someone, we should say so, and then examine why.

Imagine if journalists treated other people responsible for actions this way.

Let’s start with criminals:

Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi-scheme-related investor who was criminal-conviction-involved in 2008, was today included in a kidney-disease-inclusive prison-resident fatality.

Jeffrey Epstein was part of a pedophile-involved ring of individuals and was reputed to be statutory-rape- and sex-trafficking-involved as well before his suicide-reputed loss of life.

Charles Manson, the cult-related leader, was included in serial-killer-involved set of fatality-inclusive stabbings in the 1960s.

How about politicians?

President Biden’s election-related inaugural activities led to his leadership-adjacent involvement in the passage of a $1.9 trillion-inclusive stimulus bill in March.

Amy Coney Barrett’s October confirmation-involved nomination to the Supreme Court resulted from a set of Mitch McConnell-sped-up hearings.

Texas Governor Greg Abbot’s announcement-involved cancellation of mask-related mandates and restaurant-closing-ending proclamations was criticism-inclusive from liberals.

Or sports:

In yesterday’s baseball-related contest between Minnesota and Boston, Red Sox first-baseman Bobby Dalbec was hitting-involved in a 107-mile-per-hour-off-the-bat collision with a J.A. Happ-pitched fastball in the third inning, but the ball became a fielding-related out because of the speedy-running-and-catching-capable athleticism of Minnesota right fielder Ryan Garlick.

Can we just say what freaking happened? We’ll all be better off.

2 responses to “The term “officer-involved shooting” sets a dangerous precedent

  1. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Rosa copied the press release from the police (https://news.maryland.gov/msp/2021/04/13/trooper-involved-fatal-shooting-investigation-underway-in-st-marys-co/).

    I have not seen a police press release that does not include the phrase “officer/trooper/rank- involved.”

    Most reporters are lazy and simply copy press releases and turn them into stories. I would say almost all stories, with notable exceptions, are easily traced back to a press release. Critical thinking is usually not included.

    Curious, what she said when you asked her (https://www.rosaelenasanchez.com/)?

    Yes, I agree, it is shitty language.

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