op-ed

At Townhall: How the Media Created a Society That Accepts Refusing Service to Police Officers

15 Jul , 2020  

Dr. John Lott has a new piece up at Townhall on the social and other problems facing police officers.

Two police officers were murdered in Texas over the weekend, bringing this year’s national total to 34. Being a police officer is a dangerous job, but police nowadays face an additional problem: a lot of people hate them.

It’s hardly surprising that police departments are confronting a recruitment crisis. The mounting psychological toll of policing is pushing new recruits away.

Last fall, on a flight to Dallas, a woman sitting next to me described how her son, a Fort Worth police officer, would change out of his police uniform before picking up his child at school. 

Over the last decade, police have been refused service in fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and even in Walmarts. Many times, prior to this year, an employee was upset specifically by the officer’s gun. 

This past weekend, Five Guys fired or suspended a number of employees in Alabama for having refused to serve cops. The company also quickly apologized. And that’s how companies used to deal with this situation. But now, many companies condone discrimination against police.

Take some recent examples since June.

In Los Angeles, police who kept order during the recent riots were finding it very difficult to get a meal. “Establishments were open but are refusing to serve police officers simply because they are police officers,” said the wife of a police officer. The woman made news by raising money to feed the officers.

Restaurants used to value police protection and would even try to lure in officers with free meals. But a number of restaurants, such as Di Bruno Bros in Philadelphia, have recently ended that policy. Di announced this change because, “This offer proved to be hurtful to some of our highly valued employees & customers.” 

When the Columbus, Ohio Police Department ordered 250 meals for officers, employees at Condado Tacos walked out of the store and refused to fill the order. The company made a point of publicly announcing that none of the employees were fired.

A sign at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle warns police: “Please do not come inside if you are wearing a firearm.”

This misdirected animus for police is at least partially explained by the media’s misrepresentation of police shootings. 

The Crime Prevention Research Center, of which I am president, conducted a study on all police shootings from 2013 to 2015 and found that national news coverage would only selectively mention the races of the officer and suspect. Local news stories of white officers shooting black suspects get picked up by the national news in 38 percent of cases. That’s true of only nine percent of local news coverage of a black officer shooting a black suspect. This is quite a contrast. But the most striking statistic of all is that the national news did not cover the race of those involved in a single instance of a black officer shooting a white suspect.

The evidence indicates that black officers are no less likely to shoot suspects than are white officers, but the selective coverage leads people to believe that white officers are the problem. People assume that they are the ones shooting blacks, presumably because they treat black suspects differently than white ones. Watching the news, you would never guess that the research found that black officers were just as likely as white officers to shoot an unarmed black suspect. 

While there appear to be occasional bad police officers, such as Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case, there is still no evidence that Chauvin was motivated by racism. In other cases, people riot over completely justifiable police shootings such as that of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Brooks attacked officers and stole a stun gun, but people just assume that the officers were at fault. 

The movement to cut police budgets, which Joe Biden strongly endorsed last week, wants to replace police with “wellness counselors.” But counselors simply can’t handle violent criminals such as Brooks.  

Police save lives when they arrest violent people. Economists estimate that changes in arrest rates account for about 16 to 18 percent in the variations in murder rates between places.

Race and politics increasingly divide Americans, and selective media reporting is largely to blame. The media, not Trump, is fanning the flames of violence that has done long-term harm to heavily minority parts of our cities. 

John R. Lott, Jr., “How the Media Created a Society That Accepts Refusing Service to Police Officers,” Townhall.com, July 14, 2020.


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