Opinion: Consult More than One Source, Even News Sources

Waterloo Region Police Services officers arrested a Black teenager in early October, inciting allegations of excessive force. Photo by Liam Orsborn.

It’s always important to get your news from multiple sources. 

At Fairview Mall on October 3rd, almost a month ago, a Black teenager was arrested by three Waterloo Region police officers. Video footage of the arrest that circulated after the event led to a variety of new reports. 

In the video three officers are seen restraining the teenager. One of the officers is kneeling on the teenager’s back legs, one is pushing down on the back of the 15 year old’s neck as the third officer puts the handcuffs on. Then two of the officers pull him off of the ground and the teenager’s mask falls off. One of the cops then yells at the bystanders to get back as observers yell profanities at the officers. 

An arrest like this, caught on camera and circulated via social media calls to mind images and names of individuals who have been victims of police brutality. Black Lives Matter protests and rallies followed George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, 2020. The momentum of this movement led to calls to governments to defund police. Incidents like this raise important questions about the treatment of Black individuals by law enforcement.

Local media addressed the story in slightly different ways and, depending on what source you read, the severity of the event and what became the focus varies. In reports on an arrest like this, language can go a long way to paint a person as a victim or perpetrator. 

If you only read CBC for coverage about the event it would seem as if it was a normal arrest of a youth that was yelling threats at the police then running before shortly getting chased down and arrested. You would miss out on information regarding the fact that many people believe that the police used much more force than was necessary and you would also not know that the 15 year old that was arrested was black. 

CBC describes the arrested teen as 15 once and refers to him as a male every other time. Male can be taken as an ambiguous term that does not describe the age of someone accurately. CBC’s report has a disclaimer at the end of the article that states that “None of the events cited have been proven in court.” It also references that a video was circulating social media and then never mentions the video again. 

But if you read KitchenerToday’s story you would know that there was a young 15 year old black teenager that was arrested using a decent amount of force. You would also know that people were criticizing the police about their use of force in a video that was circulating the internet of the arrest.

 KitchenerToday references the teen as a “black youth,” which could be ambiguous as well because “youth” describes someone from age 15 to 24. The reporter takes a neutral stance, which is fair, but they do make a point to mention that the video has “raised criticism” in their first sentence. KitchenerToday quotes the police’s response to the video but they only include a quick sentence about onlookers asking the police “why they’re using force on a 15-year-old.” Then the article never references it again. 

And if you only read The Record’s story, your focus would be on the public “outrage” and that there were allegations that “excessive force” was used when arresting a young black man. 

 In The Record, the teen is labeled as a “young black man,” stating his age according to the video many times. He is also occasionally called a youth. The Record starts their article referring to how the event has “sparked outrage” and describes the amount of force used while the police made the arrest. The Record is also the only news source to mention that the police did not have masks on. This paints the police in a bad light. The record references the video directly many times. 

One could argue that The Record paints the police in more of a negative light and makes the young man the victim. But KitchenerToday wants you to know everything that happened and plays both sides mentioning that there was force used in the arrest but also that the teen was spitting at the police. CBC has a very event-driven story that does not mention that the “youth” arrested was black or that there was a controversy about the amount of force used in the arrest.  

The video that circulated over social media was just one piece of the puzzle revealed to the public. News reports were another. Focusing only on part of a story, any story, will only reveal a limited part of what happened.