photo courtesy Nick Hansen
Last week, I witnessed a solemn procession.
I-94 was closed off for the funeral of Officer Matthew Rittner. I sat in my car on the overpass above and watched the police cars in their procession through Milwaukee. There were firetrucks parked on each overpass with firefighters and bystanders standing at attention as the cars rolled on underneath the bridge.
It took me over two hours to get home that day in what is usually a seven minute drive. It was during rush hour and cars were lined up end to end in nearly standstill traffic. But as I sat in my car waiting for traffic to move, it occurred to me that our city ought to feel disrupted by this. This is the last tribute from family, friends and colleagues to a man who offered his life–and it’s deeply saddening that someone took it.
That person is Jordan Fricke. On February 6th, Milwaukee Police went to his home on Milwaukee’s south side with a search warrant for drugs and an illegal firearm. Officer Rittner used a ram to gain entry to the upper unit of the residence and Fricke fired four shots through the hole in the door. Rittner was pulled to safety but died later at Froedtert Hospital from his injuries.
Fricke was arrested and publicly identified as the suspect after the shooting.
The next day, this article was published in which Fricke’s former sister-in-law recalls the trauma and difficulties that Fricke had in his life, such as the shooting death of his mother, an absent father, and the untimely death of his brother in a 2015 hit-and-run accident.
I agree–it sounds like Jordan Fricke had a hard life. This article brings his humanity to our attention and I do appreciate that in reporting. But what leaves me scratching my head is that I cannot recall any other article written with such humanity about an alleged murderer with brown skin.
This kind of bias in reporting ought to disrupt us too, Milwaukee. When reporting adds humanity and context to an alleged murdered with white skin and does not equally represent that humanity in reporting about suspects with brown skin, it needs to be noticed and addressed.
Let’s be thoughtful about this. Do we [white people] believe that every white person who is arrested for murder has a traumatic past that led them down the wrong path–but every black person who is arrested on the same charges is just a violent/terrible person? Do we [white people] only want to hear about a case of hard luck when it pertains to other white people, or do we want to hear about trauma in the life of a black person that led them down a wrong path?
It seems when a white person is arrested for serious charges, other white people want a reason to make sense of why that person committed that crime. When we hear about a traumatic past in a white suspect’s life, it satisfies our curiosity–it gives us a reason to explain such violent behavior. Perhaps it’s because white people tend to think of other white people as good, law abiding citizens. When a black person is arrested on serious charges, white people don’t seem as curious about past trauma or context–at least, it’s not often reflected in reporting. Do white people tend to think of black suspects as people who just can’t follow the rules? Are white people interested in context of a black suspect’s life or are we only interested when the suspect is white?
Maybe it was a fluke that this article was written about a white man. Yet I feel like it’s the kind of fluke that needs our attention. We shouldn’t have a standard of reporting for people that are white and have a different kind of reporting for people who aren’t. It’s s subtle thing–reporting–but white people, me included, need to be disrupted and if it starts with the news we hear/read, so be it. Perhaps I’m wrong and I don’t know what I’m talking about–there’s a chance that’s true. I know that people can search until they find a scrap of evidence to support their thesis. So I intend to review each article written about Milwaukee homocides committed by someone with brown skin in 2018 to see if I can find an article that brings the humanity of the suspect to public attention. Maybe I’ll even dig back into 2017, just because I’m curious.
I’ll report back on my findings. I’m willing to be disrupted.