Sunday evening in Baltimore, with the nation still reeling from the shooting deaths of two NYPD officers the previous day, Fox affiliate WBFF aired a story claiming that law enforcement officials were facing increased threats amid nationwide, largely nonviolent protests against police brutality and misconduct. To make the point, WBFF included a clip of a local woman leading a protest chant allegedly urging others to "kill a cop." As WYPR reporter P. Kenneth Burns was quick to point out, however, this claim was completely inaccurate. (Gawker was also among the first to report WBFF's error.)
The clip was taken from video filmed at the National "Justice For All" March in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. Tawanda Jones is the woman in the video leading protesters in the following chant: "We won't stop! We can't stop! Till killer cops are in cell blocks!" But when WBFF aired the clip -- or at least a version of it that cuts off midway through the chant -- this is how an anchor interpreted Jones' words: "We won't stop, we can't stop, so kill a cop."
(Here's the original video of Jones' chant, which a confused YouTube poster uploaded with the title "Sharpton's 'Go Kill A Cop' march in Wash DC." In the video description field, the user wrote: "Did I really hear this right?" As it turns out, no.)
“Fox45 is apologizing for an error made on Fox45 News at Ten last night. We aired a clip from a protest in Washington, D.C. where we reported protesters were chanting 'kill a cop,'" the station said in a statement. "We here at Fox45 work hard every day to earn your trust and bring you fair and comprehensive news from around the country. Although last night's report reflected an honest misunderstanding of what the protesters were saying, we apologize for the error."
WBFF also apologized to Jones on the air, and has since removed the story from its website. A reporter later interviewed West for a follow-up segment.
"You'd have to be an idiot -- someone that hates -- to say 'kill somebody,' especially some cops that I need to protect my family," Jones said in that interview. "We need the cops. My community needs the cops."
Jones has been holding weekly nonviolent days of action since her brother's death in July 2013. She and other activists use those occasions to call for justice and accountability in the Baltimore Police Department.
Some are now asking about the editorial process that led to WBFF's decision not to air the clip in full, and wondering how the station managed to interpret the footage so inaccurately.
"'Honest misunderstanding' would seem to warrant such an explanation rather than asking viewers to accept it on faith," David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun wrote on Monday. He went on to argue that none of the station's apologies did a sufficient job of clarifying how "such an outrageous change in meaning finds its way on air with all its potential to further inflame passions at this emotional time."
Just hours before the erroneous WBFF segment aired on Sunday, the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore released a statement on the deaths of the two NYPD officers. In it, the group condemned "politicians and community leaders from President Obama, to Attorney General Holder, New York Mayor de Blasio, and Al Sharpton," claiming that they had "created the atmosphere of unnecessary hostility and peril that police officers now find added to the ordinary danger of their profession."
"Sadly, the bloodshed will most likely continue until those in positions of power realize that the unequivocal support of law enforcement is required to preserve our nation," the statement continued.
The Baltimore FOP's response is similar to those offered by other police groups around the nation, including the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which has blamed protesters for the deaths of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
Liu and Ramos were fatally shot Saturday by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a Brooklyn native with a history of mental illness. Brinsley killed himself shortly after shooting the officers.
There have been occasional extremists in the demonstrations that have swept the U.S. since the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown this year. But the majority of protesters have loudly denounced violence against police, and have done so even more emphatically in the wake of this weekend's killings.
Many, including The Huffington Post's Paul Raushenbush, have pointed out that it's entirely possible to support police and police officers while at the same time calling for reform of the criminal justice system and the elimination of racial imbalances.