SEEING THROUGH THE 'Copaganda': In the land of the free, law enforcement agencies depend on mass media to win hearts and minds.

AuthorRampell, Ed

While President Joe Biden has signed into law some of his top agenda items--like the Inflation Reduction Act--another important piece of legislation, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, was blocked in the U.S. Senate. This is despite the fact that what was arguably the country's largest mass movement in history shook the nation in 2020 after the murders of unarmed Black people by police officers.

Of course, police unions helped derail this legislation. But another insidious factor explains why this bill for a federal registry of police misconduct complaints, among other measures to curb officer malfeasance, hasn't passed. It can be summed up in one word: "copaganda."

Copaganda is intended to counteract negative perceptions of armed government employees, who often are accused of abuse of power yet depend on taxpayer largesse and goodwill.

"Copaganda is the way police advance their own narrative," Melina Abdullah, a California State University, Los Angeles professor and co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, tells The Progressive. This, she says, "is used to justify targeting Black people."

"When Black people are killed or harmed by police, the first thing we're trained [and] socialized to do is say, "What did he or she do?' Next is the argument, 'If she or he had just complied,'" she explains.

"Copaganda is used to train us to think about Black people as automatically guilty," Abdullah says, and "police as automatically right in their actions."

Alec Karakatsanis, a Harvard law school graduate and founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps, a nonprofit that fights injustices in the country's legal system, argues that the intent of copaganda is to "focus society on wrongdoing committed by people without power--poor people, people of color, and immigrants--and ignore urgent and far more consequential, catastrophic harm caused by people who own things."

Another effect of copaganda, Karakatsanis tells The Progressive, is that it draws attention to "a few narrowly reported crimes" in the realm of public safety, such as burglary or shoplifting, rather than overlooked crimes like wage theft and tax evasion. "Copaganda focuses on interpersonal crimes committed by the poor, not on large-scale crimes [like] pollution, which kills far more people," Karakatsanis says.

"Enormous amounts of time, energy, and money are spent by powerful interests to shape media coverage," Karakatsanis adds. "Police departments all across the country focus very significantly on public relations, and police unions have separate public relations budgets."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff s Department, for example, has forty-two employees focused on public relations, while the Los Angeles Police Department has twenty-five, Karakatsanis says.

"There's a traditional way of doing news reporting, especially local journalism, that relies mainly on local police and prosecutors as sources... . Many stories essentially adapt a...

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