Copspeak (by 1971) is that strange way police spokesmen in the US have of speaking, repeated by the paid parrots of the press. It sounds objective and neutral, but it is anything but:
altercation – this sounds like a physical fight but it could just be an argument or shouting or, in the case of Walter Scott, nothing at all.
broken tail light – driving while Black, like Philando Castile or Assata Shakur. (Note that where I say “Black”, much the same likely applies to Latino and Native Americans too.)
discharged his weapon – the officer shot his gun. Used to distance police from their actions. For example, when police shot Jamar Clark, Minnesota Public Radio News reported it as “an officer discharged his weapon, striking the individual.” Like it was an accident or something.
feared for his safety – Black men are frightening, even when unarmed, like Michael Brown.
fit the description – all Black people look alike.
grand jury – the “jury” part makes it seem like it is fair and above board, but, unlike the trial juries you see on television, grand juries meet in secret and pretty much just hear the police side of the story unchallenged.
investigation – a cover-up if the police are investigating themselves.
juvenile / person of interest / suspect – because these words mainly appear in crime stories, they have the effect of criminalizing anyone the police apply them to, even those who are not, in fact, breaking the law. For example, students waiting for buses became “a group of juveniles in the area of Mondawmin Mall”, which helped to cause the Baltimore riot almost as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or: when the police killed Freddie Gray, he was the “suspect”, not the police, even though he had not broken the law.
Let the process work – see investigation and grand jury.
officer-involved shooting – a police shooting. Notice that there are never any “civilian-involved shootings”. That is because civilians “shoot” and “kill”, while police officers are only “involved” in a shooting.
paid administrative leave – paid vacation.
person of interest – see juvenile.
source said – the police said. Used to make the police account seem like an objective, third-party account.
suspect – see juvenile.
use of passive voice – this allows the press to leave the police out of headlines. For example, when the police killed Michael Brown, one of the first headlines said: “Teenager Shot. Killed in Ferguson Apartment Complex.” A killing with no killer. See discharged his weapon.
Other words and phrases that show that the press is mindlessly repeating the police:
- declined to,
- fled the scene,
- fled at a high rate of speed,
- fled on foot,
- handed up/down,
- involved in,
- sustained (injuries),
- tag (for licence plate),
Note that even with all of this slanted language, the police still straight-up lie and plant evidence, as shown in the Walter Scott case. In most cases the press repeats the police story without challenge.
Thanks to Afrofem for her help with this post. All mistakes are mine.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Orwell: Politics and the English language
- nominalization – turning verbs into abstract nouns.
- The police
- driving while Black
- Jamar Clark
- Freddie Gray
- Michael Brown
- grand jury