So… before folk dive into one of those but “All Lives Matter “rants, this editorial is about the inexcusable bias that is continually presented by some local mainstream media and not a judgment on the value of the life of Ryan Saffrhan.
If you didn’t know, Saffrhan was the “beloved” French Quarter waiter killed in Metairie about a week and a half ago. We use the word “beloved” because that is how he was described in the headline of the story that appeared on nola.com/The Times Picayune.
It is not until four paragraphs into the Jan. 19 article that we learn that Saffrhan, who happened to be White, had been killed after he was robbed of the marijuana he was trying to sell and then went looking for the robbers who stole the pot…that he was selling… which is still illegal in Louisiana…which makes Saffrhan a dealer of illegal drugs…which, in our book, makes him not-so “beloved”–at least not in the newsworthy sense.
Then, we are hit with mugshot-like photos of the two suspects, who happen to Black. They of course, look like criminals—not because they are Black, but because of the photos—stark headshots against ugly, institutional walls. However, there are four pictures of the “beloved” Saffrhan. He’s smiling. He’s serving. He’s stirring a big ‘ol pot of crawdads. He looks like the boy next door. You know…the one that deals drugs.
Don’t misunderstand us. We are sorry for Saffrhan’s family and friends. We know that regardless of what he did or did not do, his loss is difficult for them. Our issue actually has to do with how the local media—in this case, nola.com—still seem to have a double standard for treating Blacks and Whites in their publications.
We are trying to recall the last time nola.com/The Times Picayune went through so much trouble to endear its readers to a Black drug dealer gunned down in the streets of the metro area. Were any of them any less beloved? Not for a lack of trying, we cannot understand why the headline didn’t accurately, more straightforwardly and simply read “Two sought in murder of French Quarter waiter, drug dealer”? Or if the point of the story was that his friends and family mourned him, how about “Family, friends heartbroken over killing of French Quarter waiter, pot dealer”?
We could be all wrong about this…but we doubt it. It is barefaced media bias.
For anyone that thinks we are racializing the matter, we have two things to say. First, it is a matter of media bias propagated along racial lines. So we are not racializing it. It is a racial issue. Race and racism are still issues in America and in New Orleans; and if you disagree, you are either delusional or a big part of the problem. The reality is the media bias is just a symptom of a much worse illness that impacts every space in our society, including our criminal justice system.
Second, stop and consider this March 2102 nola.com/Times-Picayune headline regarding the shooting of Wendell Allen, who happened to be Black:
“NOPD officer who shot unarmed pot suspect in Gentilly is identified …”
Or this one:
“Warrant shows police targeted Gentilly house for alleged pot dealing …”
Again, not for a lack of effort, but we can’t find the headline or the story that describes Allen as a “beloved” son and grandson who was always making people laugh, a kind soul that would give you the shirt off his back—in the same way this so-called news article gushes over Saffrhan—the drug dealer.
Maybe they tried to muster up a bit of sympathy for Allen with this one:
“Man shot by officer Wednesday was star basketball player for Douglas High School”
If so, it surely falls short of that goal. Allen was 20 when he was killed by former NOPD officer—far removed from his days on the court as a high school student. The closest, we see to any attempt to endear the late Wendell Allen—who, by the way was unarmed when he was killed and was not in the act of dealing marijuana when he was killed and was not even the subject of the warrant—was a headline that referred to his family as “heartbroken”, which has nothing to do Allen. No duh, they were heartbroken, particularly after seeing a pretty damning that videotape police officers tried to suppress which indicated their many missteps in serving the warrant at Allen’s home that morning. And it isn’t lost on us that nola.com didn’t consider them “heartbroken” until more than three years after his death and after the officer that killed him took a plea deal. Yet, miraculously, it took only three days for nola.com to declare Saffrhan “beloved”.
Did we mention that as it turns out Allen wasn’t even the subject of the warrant? In fact, the subject of the warrant did not live at home in Gentilly. Still, headline after headline reminded us that police raided his Gentilly home the morning one of them killed him because they had a warrant for suspicion of marijuana dealing at the address. Meanwhile, we have to muddle through four paragraphs of various and sundry to learn that Saffrhan met his demise while actually dealing marijuana, which does not devalue his life, but certainly calls into question some poor, prejudiced and all too prevalent journalistic practices here in NOLA.
It is media bias at its worst. It is dogged and deliberate. It’s racial. And it’s sickening.