How Smartphones Could Hold Police Accountable

Last week in South Carolina, a shooting brought the discussion of racial relations and police brutality back into the mainstream media—but this was no Michael Brown or even Eric Garner story. Michael Slager, a 33 year-old, white police officer shot Walter Scott, an unarmed, 50 year-old black man, eight times in the back.

But in this case, a local bystander captured the entire altercation on video, causing journalists to completely change the way they approached the story. The New York Times was one of the first media outlets to receive video footage and report the story:

WASHINGTON — A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away.

The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening.

Using the video as a primary source, the story above provides accurate facts about the event and those involved. It depicts Slager as the criminal and Scott as the victim.

The Huffington Post, however, decided to show how differently the story would have been reported if the video footage had never surfaced. Keep in mind, the story is hypothetical, but it obtained the information from actual police reports and records. But here we see the reverse of the NYT article—Slager is the hero for defeating Scott, a convict:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

Contrasts in language and facts in these two stories paint completely different pictures for readers. It says a lot about how journalism depends on facts from public officials. When the police department provides information to journalists—no matter how true the facts may be—reporters have to trust them. How can journalists be credible if their sources are fabricating essential details to make themselves look better?

But thanks to Feidin Santana, the bystander who happened to be in the North Charleston neighborhood at the time of the incident, journalists and the American public can use their own judgment to determine what actually happened.

The video presents quite a different account from what Slager and other officials initially said. Scott is not seen trying to retrieve weapons or put up any kind of fight against the officer. Several policemen were at the scene, and none of them were shown performing CPR as the police reports stated.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Santana wasn’t sure if coming forward with the footage would be worth the consequences. The Good Samaritan almost deleted the video altogether until he realized what a difference it could potentially make in the case:

He decided to act after concluding that Slager’s confrontation with Scott was being misrepresented. “I saw the police report, and I saw it was going the wrong way…. I got mad,” he said. The official description of what happened “wasn’t like I saw it.”

He said he ultimately brought the clip to Scott’s relatives after realizing that if the same thing had happened to one of his family members, he “would like to know the truth.”

Had Santana erased the recording or not been at the scene, Slager could have quite literally gotten away with murder. But instead, the officer was immediately fired from the force and charged with murder.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn told citizens not to hesitate recording suspicious activity to help keep cops accountable and cause them to “really think twice before pulling their weapons,” according to Politico.

The case has once again stirred up tensions all across America about police brutality and injustice. About the same time this was happening in South Carolina, Ferguson, Missouri saw record turnouts at the polls for city council. Now three out of six members are black, more accurately representing the town’s two-thirds black population, according to the Associated Press.

Giving all citizens fair representation in their local government is a step in the right direction toward racial reconciliation all across America. After several city officials resigned following the Department of Justice’s review of the Darren Wilson case, the council now must hire replacements.

The Department of Justice found that Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown, who robbed a store and fought to physically harm the officer. Scott, on the other hand, was pulled over for a broken taillight and fled the scene to avoid jail time (according to his brother Anthony Scott, he was behind on child support payments).

“There’s a tremendous moral and legal difference between a person dying during an altercation with police and an officer willfully using lethal force,” said former cop Peter Moskos in an op-ed published in the Washington Post.

Moskos went on to discuss public criticism of police, and how when one cop makes a mistake, it reflects poorly on police officers as a whole. To put an end to unnecessary deaths like Scott’s and others we’ve seen in the past year, it is essential to “stop criminalizing so many people:”

What the deaths of Garner, Brown and Scott do have in common are individuals who didn’t want to go to jail and cops who wanted to take them there. So one logical way to reduce potentially deadly arrest situations — whether the deadly force involved is justifiable, questionable or criminal — is to stop criminalizing so many people. More productive than blaming police for enforcing existing laws would be to change and soften our laws in a way that does not jeopardize public safety.

The journey toward racial reconciliation in America will be a long and difficult one, and there’s no doubt that we’ll see more incidents like this in the future. But we can start bridging that gap by finding unity in diversity of our police forces, mainstream newsrooms and city councils everywhere.

Let’s Talk About RFRA

Image via LA Times

Image via LA Times

Arkansas and Indiana are typically among the forgotten states that don’t usually receive a lot of media attention. But that’s not always the case. In fact, the “controversy” that came from the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in the two states was one of the nation’s biggest stories last week. It sparked a lot of debate and discussion, and I think for good reason—this issue holds a lot of weight in our country’s government, so I think it should have a strong presence in the media.

But I have a few concerns.

I would venture to say that a great deal of the tensions drawn out of RFRA was rooted in misconceptions caused by the media. Major news outlets framed the story as divisive, and I saw more articles than I can count with the word “controversial” written right into the headline.

Instead of delivering the facts in a fair and balanced way, Americans were subjected to misleading language and poor representation from both sides of the issue. Of course, this led to people thinking they understood when they really didn’t, and pretty soon the entire nation was confused. When we take a closer look at what’s actually going on here, I think a lot of misunderstandings could have been avoided. Now that we’ve seen the commotion develop for a few days, let’s reflect, shall we?

I’m all about freedom of speech and letting our opinions be heard, but I think before we start speaking our minds, we should first be informed citizens. Reading the RFRA for yourself is a good idea, but interpreting its meaning can be difficult when the media takes certain aspects out of context. I recommend reading this article from the Washington Post. Here’s a simplified timeline, just so we’re all on the same page.

  • 1990: The Supreme Court granted Native Americans exemption from the prohibition of hallucinogenic drugs because they use peyote for sacramental purposes.
  • 1993: President Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA in an incredibly close Senate vote of 97 to 3. It ensured that the federal law could not hinder religious practices.
  • 1997: The Supreme Court decided that the federal RFRA does not apply to individual states, but they were free to enact their own RFRA’s.
  • As of 2014, 19 states had enacted their own RFRA laws.

If so many other states already have RFRA written into their laws, what makes this case any different? We’ve never had this much controversy over any individual state RFRA, and the federal RFRA passed nearly unanimously.

Take a look at the mainstream news coverage of the federal RFRA in 1993, and compare it to the same outlet covering the same story today. Just notice how the language used in the second article politically leans to the left, and decide whether or not the sources interviewed were balanced.

As for Arkansas and Indiana, a lot of experts are saying that timing is the key factor in the criticism of Governors Mike Pence and Asa Hutchinson. Just last October, Indiana recognizes same-sex marriage as legal. Whether or not citizens were against that ruling, there hasn’t been much time for the dust to settle there.

Although neither RFRA initially stated anything about the LGBT community, the issue inevitable made its way to the headlines and “became symbolic as a fight over LGBT discrimination,” according to the Post:

But the symbolic fight has little to do with what actually happens when RFRA claims are raised in the courts. RFRA allows people to make the argument in court that a law shouldn’t apply to them because the both burdens their religious expression and there is not a less burdensome alternative. This is seen as good news for religious minorities whose religious beliefs are often in conflict with the law. Regulations on education of Amish children, prohibitions against head coverings at work, and other laws can be challenged if there is another way for the state to accomplish the same purpose.

Same-sex marriage is a sore subject for conservative Christians, so when the media portrayed this bill as a battle of religious liberty vs. gay rights, they were thrown into the center of the whole ordeal.

In my own home state, Governor Hutchinson received as much backlash as he did support. From the CEO of Walmart to his own son, there were a lot of unhappy Arkansans last week, and they publicly expressed their dissatisfaction, asking Hutchinson to veto the legislation.

“The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions,” the elder Hutchinson said. “It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.”

Indiana’s governor did end up asking for revisions on the bill to include anti-discriminatory language, but Hutchinson did not. And I think that’s okay for a couple of reasons.

As long as they are not discriminating against an individual because of his or her race, gender, sexual orientation or beliefs, I think that Americans should stand up for what they believe in. If a local photographer, baker or florist doesn’t feel comfortable providing a service for a same-sex wedding because of their religious views, the government should not require them to do so.

Now, of course, that’s completely different from an individual walking into a bakery and having the owner throw him out because of his sexual orientation. That’s not okay.

There is definitely a way to compromise, and we see a good example of that play out successfully in Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Washington state:

Because my relationship with Jesus Christ teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman, I couldn’t do his flowers and create something that was special for him because it would dishonor Christ.

When Rob came in and told me he was getting married, and I told him the reason I couldn’t do his wedding…he asked me if I had any other florist that I could recommend, and I did recommend three because I knew they’d do a good job for him, and I knew he wanted something special. And we hugged each other and he left.

Christianity teaches that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, but Christianity also teaches to love your neighbor as yourself. Southerners (particularly conservative Christians) are known for speaking their minds and standing up for what they believe in. Sometimes it may lead to trouble, but Americans have that right, and it is necessary for us to value that freedom.

Southern Bells: Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, country music isn’t really my jam. But that gave me an idea for a new segment where I show you what exactly is my jam: Southern Bells (haha, get it?). I love sharing music with others and discovering new tunes too. So (at least) every month, I’ll feature some of my favorite Southern musicians and/or songs about the South.

For my first installment, I chose Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. If you compressed the state of Tennessee into a sound, I’m pretty sure it would be this. They’ve been making music since 2005, but I finally got to see them live a couple years ago in Memphis, and I absolutely fell in love. Drew and Ellie are just adorable when they perform together. Also when they’re just living and breathing. I mean, just look at them:

Image via

Image via

Anyway, here’s a sampling of some of my favorites from their major albums. Doesn’t it just make you want to drive to Jerry’s with the windows down, breathing in that humid summer air? Okay, you caught me—I’m ready for summer, y’all.

What do y’all think of Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors? Who are your favorite Southern-but-not-quite-country musicians? Is “Southern Bells” too cheesy?


Closed Minds and Country Music

Country music is a big deal where I’m from. When tuning into local radio at any given time, you’re most likely to hear gospel music, sports broadcasts or country hits. Personally, what they play on country radio stations today isn’t really my style, so it takes a lot to make me want to talk about mainstream country music. But this week, I came across some headlines that caught my attention.

Alabama superstars, Little Big Town, were surprised to see their catchy new tune spark widespread controversy for being too “provocative.”

Now, I will admit that “Girl Crush” contains lyrics that could be misconstrued if listeners don’t pay attention to the full song. After a close listen, it turns out to be a song about jealousy.

Even I’m in the loop enough to know that most empowering females in the country music world sing about betrayal and bitterness toward men, and they all handle those emotions differently. While Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift seek out revenge on their exes by slashing tires and smashing windows, “Girl Crush” is a different take on the same story.

But the lyrics have upset quite a few people. I can definitely picture conservative fans hearing the song for the first time and freaking out when they hear the female lead sing “I wanna taste her lips.” Of course they tune out immediately and miss the very next line “Yeah, ‘cause they taste like you.”

This poor girl is clearly singing to her ex who left her for someone else. All she wants to do is live up to the standards that this new girl supposedly meets. She “wants everything she has” so the guy will love her the same way. It’s really quite the sob story.

I appreciate what Jason Owen, Little Big Town’s manager, had to say in The Tennessean:

“Everyone always focuses on the negative and they make the negative a bigger deal than the positive,” Owen said. “In my opinion, we’ve had so much positive about this song from day one, from critics, from fans, from the industry. Everyone has said this is the best song on the record if not of Little Big Town’s career. Anytime there’s an inkling of drama, that comes to the top and becomes the story.”

This is true about a lot of major news stories we see in the South. As soon as anyone says anything “controversial,” it’s on the front page. Conservatives and liberals alike tend to jump to conclusions, and misconceptions abound when people don’t open their minds.

The Washington Post suggests that country radio is the problem, and in fact it may actually be dying out. Those who are still regularly tuning into the radio are more likely to have traditional, old-fashioned values than younger, more progressive audiences that are buying music from iTunes. “Girl Crush” currently sits at the top of iTunes’ country music charts, but it’s falling behind on radio rankings. Several fans are going so far as to threaten to stop listening if stations keep playing the song.

A music director for a country station in Texas wrote a blog post about the angry phone calls and emails she received firsthand. She defended Little Big Town, saying that although she was skeptical at first, she loved the song after listening to it, and she doesn’t understand how people can actually think that this song is trying to push “the gay agenda” on listeners.

Country music fans, please try to have an open mind about songs you are hearing on the radio today and if you don’t like them, that’s fine, but don’t not like them for the wrong close-minded reasons.

This whole ordeal might be saying something bigger about the generational gap in the music industry. I can see why fans who thought the song had a completely different meaning were upset, but would it really be right for them to be upset even then?

The media has been normalizing homosexuality for years. We see it on television every day on Glee, Jane the Virgin, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, House of Cards, The Office, Modern Family, Friends, Mad Men—the list could go on and on. Perhaps these shows aren’t getting the same kind of attention because of the audiences they cater to. I’m fairly certain that the writers of Orange is the New Black don’t have the same concerns as country music writers.

The Post talked to Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town about the close-mindedness of listeners:

As for the lyrics tripping up listeners, Fairchild guesses people hear the “taste her lips” line sung by a female singer and take assumptions from there — she’s still surprised by the controversy. “That’s just shocking to me, the close-mindedness of that, when that’s just not what the song was about,” Fairchild said, “But what if it were? It’s just a greater issue of listening to a song for what it is.”

Lilly Pulitzer Targets Growing Audience

Back in January, Lilly Pulitzer announced a new partnership with mega-retailer Target. This week, they released the official lookbook that features a 250-piece collection of dresses, swimwear, shorts, tops, rompers, shoes, jewelry, scarves, phone cases, bags, hats and more. Long winter months are coming to an end, and classy girls everywhere are counting down the days to get their hands on the pretty prints and patterns April 19.

Image via Target

Images via Target

But not everyone is a fan of the collaboration. Loyal Lilly fans don’t want their brand to be accessible to everyone because it takes away from the exclusivity it has represented for decades. According to, elite ladies from the Kennedy, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families wore the iconic Palm Beach brand. While original Lilly is a bit on the pricey side, it allows girls to have a higher social status without paying haute couture prices.

Some people are genuinely angry that Target is offering an interpretation of their clothing at a more affordable price. But while the “Queen of Prep” passed away in 2013, many feel she would have been proud that her designs had become so popular and are now reaching more women.

I think this could actually be one of the most successful designer partnerships we’ve seen at Target. These are super cute pieces that happen to have decent price tags. Come on, y’all. I think we can all hop on that train. You better believe that you’ll see me lounging at the pool in a $50 suit from Target before you’ll see me spend $150 on an identical one. I’m sure the same goes for Lilly’s primary audience of preppy young white girls—whether they want to admit it or not. Even the classiest ladies love a good deal, right?

Greek Life’s Problem with Racism

Just about everyone in my high school’s graduating class that went off to a big state school joined a sorority or a fraternity. Greek life is a huge deal in the South. Even though I’m an independent (translation: not affiliated with a Greek organization) at my small private school, some of my best friends are members of the largest Greek organizations in the country. I have definitely been exposed to the culture.

Because Greek life is such a big deal in the South, of course major stereotypes exist. To prove my point, a Pinterest search for “Southern fraternity” comes up with bow ties, American flags worn as clothing, red solo cups, punny t-shirts, group shots from SEC tailgates, girls wearing Lilly Pulitzer and floppy monogrammed sunhats, Confederate flags painted on coolers and lots of attractive white people.

Images via Pinterest

Images via Pinterest

From the outside, the charming, preppy lifestyle seems like a good time. But on the inside, as we’ve seen in the news recently, that’s not always the case. I’m sure by now you’ve all seen Oklahoma University’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the news for their racist chant that was captured on video and immediately went viral.

In the video, students happily chanted that they would never welcome a black member into their fraternity—in fact they would rather “hang him from a tree” than accept him as their brother. As a result, the university’s president shut down the chapter and expelled the students who led the chant.

These guys weren’t exactly living up to SAE’s creed, “The True Gentleman,” but they certainly weren’t the first to exclude and offend people on the outside. SAE was founded in 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and according to the Washington Post, “it was their intention to confine the fraternity to the southern states.” Of course, after the Civil War, they expanded across the country and some even included black students many years later.

I read this great article the other day about how Oklahoma’s campus is still reeling from the events from a couple weeks ago. While students wonder how these incidents still take place so long after the civil rights movement, most aren’t surprised that the 5 percent black population is not always treated well. After all, college students aren’t know for being the most inclusive groups of people—the article mentioned recent incidents at Ole Miss and San Jose State University.

White men and women, especially in the South, need to work on understanding the importance of cultural differences and the histories of ethnic groups. Most racism that I have personally witnessed is rooted in ignorance passed down for several generations, which leads to a lack of willingness to get to know the other person based on who they are instead of the color of their skin.

Fortunately, not all SAE chapters have the same problem. Students at Midwestern State University in Texas launched a chapter of SAE just a few years ago with the goal to be the most diverse fraternity in the school’s history.

Of course, in news coverage of the University of Oklahoma video, a lot has been made of the fact that many of SAE’s early members fought for the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. We knew of that history when we started our chapter, but that reality was 150 years old. There are few storied institutions in the U.S. that are untarnished by a prejudiced history, not even the nation itself. Our society has evolved beyond its roots, and we believe that SAE has, too.

The whole point of a fraternity—originating from the Latin frater, or “brother”—is to form a bond with friends who become family and serve their communities by raising funds for charity and taking leadership positions in their schools to change things for the better.

So these guys at Oklahoma really missed the mark and went against everything they supposedly stood for. Surely some of the members had racist ideals instilled in them from a young age (welcome to the South). But what they did was wrong, and their carelessness affected a lot of people.

The video’s release opened up communication among students who otherwise had never discussed existing racial tensions on campus. One graduate student, Darion Mayhorn of Ferguson, Missouri, said that his own roommate had never even brought up the recent events that changed his hometown forever.

“You live with a black guy that lived in Ferguson, and you haven’t asked him anything what he thought about it?” he said. “We need to challenge ourselves to remove that stigma of being scared of whatever it may be and open up our minds and hearts, and find out what that person may know that you don’t know.”

Seeing racial tension make headlines really breaks my heart. While I’m proud of where I’m from, too often I see the South’s history continue to hurt innocent people. Obviously some people aren’t over that quite yet, but one positive result of these major news stories is that it does get people talking—talking about their feelings, their misconceptions, their questions and their hurts.

George Henderson is a professor at Oklahoma—the third black professor ever hired at the university—and he has been helping black and white students become more sensitive, understanding and open to hearing one another since 1967. He said that no minority group has ever succeeded without the support of someone from the majority group.

While some important things have changed, Mr. Henderson said, many have not. “We’re desegregated. We’re not integrated,” he said, describing how Asian, white, black, and Greek-group students often remain in clusters in the dining hall. “We share geography but not a common space called a university.” If students don’t so much as eat with one another, he said, how will they learn about one another?

Hey, Y’all!

Ahhh, the South.

Sweet tea, “y’all,” country roads, hospitality, Nanna’s cookin’, porch swings, Memphis BBQ, SEC football, summer picnics, the accents, the belles and the gentlemen.

What’s not to love?

Okay, so maybe it’s not all fine and dandy. There are some pretty crazy stereotypes out there about Southerners. They certainly don’t apply to every one of us, but in my 20 years, I’ve pretty much seen it all.

Racist, Bible-thumping, ignorant, obese, intolerant, alcoholic, uneducated and unsophisticated rednecks who never wear shoes…yeah, these people exist too.

image via Haley Nahman

image via Haley Nahman

After growing up in small town Arkansas where the majority of my family lives (and farms), I moved to Tennessee for college. I’m proud to be the Southern girl that I am, but sometimes these stereotypes go a little too far—and let’s be honest, none of them are representative of the South as a whole. The media has a great impact on these stereotypes, and vice versa, existing stereotypes influence what is considered newsworthy in the South.

On this blog you’ll find my thoughts about what’s up down South. We’ll take a closer look at how these and other stereotypes are portrayed in the media and what it all means. Along the way I’ll be answering your questions, trying to be funny, telling stories, talking about food and so much more!

Y’all come back now, ya hear?