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Manufacturing Delaware Consent

Manufacturing Consent, the 1988 book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, remains a relevant resource for understanding the media in Delaware.

 · May 17, 2021

In March, after New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer authorized the release of the bodycam and dashcam footage of the County police killing Lymond Moses on Wilmington’s Eastside, I wrote a commentary for the Call demanding the arrest of the officers and the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

I labeled the killing a 21st-century lynching.  I also claimed that whenever further information is made public the community is going to be told why County police were patrolling inside the City of Wilmington.  And that the fact that they were outside their understood jurisdiction was secretly approved beforehand and so correct.  Further, it will be explained that raining gunfire into Mr. Moses’ car was necessary and right.  

Exactly how this would be done I couldn’t know.  In any case, I pointed this out mostly for myself.  Probably like many of you I’m going to need to prepare my mind and soul to be told that what I saw was reasonable when any reasonable person saw a man menaced by armed agents of the state and, when cornered, was ultimately killed trying to slowly pull away.

Last week I believe we were provided a clue about how the public will be groomed to consent to the murder of Lymond Moses.  Manufactured by mass-market media at The News Journal.

On May 12 DelawareOnline ran an article by Isabel Hughes titled “’Trying to put a Band-Aid on a dam:’ What happens when too few people want to be cops?”  Hughes chronicles the dearth of applicants for open police positions at departments large and small across the country and up and down the state.  The article makes the case that there is a crisis in recruiting new police.  

The Dover (DE) Police Chief Thomas Johnson was interviewed for the article and is quoted at length.  While admitting that public scrutiny is part of the job, he complains that the “pendulum has perhaps swung way too far into the hyper-analysis of the minutia.”

Johnson laments that incidents in “places you probably never heard of”, like Ferguson, MO, can have a negative impact on the reputation of police across the country and the world.

To her credit, Hughes does recount the Thomas Webster incident.  Webster was the Dover officer who, in 2015, kicked a man on the ground during an altercation.  The man, Lateef Dickerson, was rendered unconscious and suffered a broken jaw.  Webster was subsequently acquitted of charges in this case and was hired by a small police department in Maryland, only to be dismissed after a man died in his custody.

Hughes also notes the increase of these violent interactions being recorded for posterity on video. The most notorious of these incidents being the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (Chauvin has recently been convicted of murdering Floyd.)  

Johnson notes that video of violent police interactions with the public often unfairly “sways perception” of cops in general.  Town of New Castle Police Chief Richard McCabe goes further to claim that the entire law enforcement “profession is being villainized.”

So the stage is set.  Police departments are the victims of unfair treatment.  This situation is causing “a crisis in policing.”  Open positions become more and more difficult to fill. 

Enter Dover police Sgt. Jenn Lynch.  Hughes spends some personal time with the 18-year veteran.  At Lynch’s home, we meet her wife and young son Jace.  They’re getting ready to take Jace’s sister Juliana to ballet class.  

It goes on.  Lynch’s wife Shelly was acquainted with Delmar Police Cpl. Keith Heacook who was killed responding to a call last month.  Shelly knew Heacook from her time working for the Department of Corrections.  Weaving that tragic incident into this story was almost too good to be true.

Hughes also notes how viral videos and internet memes–like one on Facebook of Prince Harry in a police uniform–are being used by police recruiters as an attempt to “humanize officers” and drive applicants.  The effectiveness of these efforts can’t be quantified.

In summation, multiple local police chiefs are interviewed and quoted at length.  A police sergeant gets a glowing personal profile.  (Admittedly she seems like a perfectly nice person with a cute family.)  Her partner just so happens to have a connection with an officer who was recently killed.  All within the framing of a “crisis” in staffing because being a police officer is no longer viewed in the esteem it once was.  If it ever was.

Just last week many of the major police reform recommendations were voted down in subcommittees of Delaware’s Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force.  Even though many advocates and participants went public with a letter of no-confidence.  

So whose idea was it to run a piece on the diminishing respect for the police?  To get access to chiefs across the area and allow them to shape the narrative via a 2,500-word piece that was top on the homepage on Sunday, May 16?  Who introduced the reporter to Sgt. Lynch specifically?  And why is this framed as a looming safety crisis?  

If we are too critical of the police and they don’t feel respected maybe there won’t be as many police.  Or perhaps standards will be lowered and as Elsmere Police Chief Laura Giles says:

Being a smaller department, I will take a chance on someone that a bigger department might say, ‘Oh, you did that one thing, and now we’re going to look for someone else.’    

I wonder what was that one thing she had in mind?  

This is not a personal indictment of Isabel Hughes or the News Journal.  As Chomsky himself points out, the system perpetuates itself without the need for explicit guidance at every turn.  This is the story that needed to be produced and it was produced.  The beautiful photographs of Lynch and her family at their home added to the overall effect.

The reason is simple.  The establishment must control the narrative.  If the perception of cops is diminishing the perception can be juiced.  The established authority will intervene.  Police are people too!  And if we keep up with this protesting and disrespect, those police will be sad.  Moreover, there may not be enough police.

This story primed the pump.  It softened up critics and activists demanding more oversight, more scrutiny, more accountability.  Moreover, it portrayed those critics as dangerous.  Fueling a crisis!  

It creates an environment whereby casual news followers now understand there to be a storm brewing in police staffing.   People who consume only a few local mass-market sources now have sympathy reinforced.

Do I think it was done maliciously or even consciously?  No, I don’t.  Just like those who wield real political power in this state blocked legislative reform via an inscrutable task force subcommittee apparatus run mostly by ex-cops, the authorities want you to know that all this rabble-rousing and “vile hatred” spread on social media has an impact.  Whether the impact is measurable or meaningful in the larger context remains unclear. 

Of course, the police could simply not demand special privileges and act with impunity while under a veil of secrecy.  Rather than regurgitate the few-bad-apples trope, they could take a serious look at their policies and procedures.  They could take responsibility.  They could run out of violent officers. 

Instead, we get excuses and blame dodging.  We get no joy in the legislature and a personal profile in the state’s largest paper of a nice lady and her family in Dover.

About the Author

R.E. Vanella is the Coordinating Editor of the Delaware Call and the host of the Highlands Bunker podcast. He lives in the Forty Acres neighborhood in Wilmington with his wife. He is currently working on a book about the intersection of politics and cricket tentatively titled Thoughts from Silly Point. Read more from R.E. Vanella.