#ShawShooting: Police Use Dog-Whistle Language in Shooting of Vonderrit Myers

Update [10:22]: Original story claimed that Shaw Avenue, the area where Vonderrit Myers was shot and killed, was near Ferguson.  Shaw is in the St. Louis area.

Last night, there was another police shooting in Shaw Avenue area of St. Louis.  Family members of Vonderrit Myers claim that he was unarmed, while the police office who shot Vonderrit Myers claimed that he had a gun.  This shooting does not look good for the St. Louis Police Department with planned Ferguson protests on Monday, October 13, and I am not going to speculate what happened at the crime scene.  However, while reading the accounts of what happened, there was one line in a statement released by St. Louis police that screams of dog-whistle rhetoric.

Wikipedia defines dog-whistle politics – or rhetoric – as:

political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathising with racist or revolutionary attitudes

On Democracy Now!, Demos Fellow Ian Haney Lopez, author of “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class” described dog-whistle politics as:

 is a term that’s out there in the conversation, but I don’t think the meaning has really gelled. It says, look, politics now is occurring in coded terms, like a dog whistle. On one level, we hear clearly there’s a sense of racial agitation; on another level, plausible deniability—people can insist nothing about race at all.

Moving onto the reports from last night’s shooting, the Los Angeles Times published the following from the St. Louis Post Dispatch;

At a news conference early Thursday, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson told reporters that the officer fired 17 times after the suspect had fired three shots at him. Dotson said he did not know how many times the suspect had been hit. He said that a 9mm Ruger had been recovered, according to the Post-Dispatch, and that the dead man “was no stranger to law enforcement.” 

The key phrase to this statement that was aggregated from the Post Dispatch was, “no stranger to law enforcement.”  What does “no stranger to law enforcement” mean.  In the story there was no elaboration on what the statement means, but it’s pretty simple to understand what it meant.  That statement was targeted at white people who would be following this in the media and it means that the dead teenager was a “thug,” a “criminal” and so on.  

When was the last time we saw a wealthy upper middle class describe a dead teenager as a “criminal” or a “thug?”  Well, last Friday at the St. Louis Symphony.  Supporters of Michael Brown had a banner drop and sung “Requiem for Michael Brown” during the symphony’s intermission.  Most in the crowd cheered, while one person – on videotape – was caught calling Michael Brown “a criminal.”  This is how dog-whistle politics works.  You put coded language such as “thug,” “criminal” or “no stranger to law enforcement” in the printed media – or on Fox News – and people will pick up those catchphrases.        


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About Sean Kitchen 681 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to sean@rcpress.org or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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