July 18, 2013

Cop Upset at "Rolling Stone" Tsarnaev Cover Blows It Big Time

A Massachusetts State Police Sergeant, upset with a "Rolling Stones" magazine cover that some misguided observers felt "glamorized" Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has reportedly himself violated his oath, undermined his agency, potentially put evidence in the bombing investigation at risk, and demonstrated exactly how bad judgement results in photos on the Internet that can haunt innocent parties forever.

The current edition of "Rolling Stone" features a photo of Tsarnaev's face, much as the magazine displayed a photo many years ago of Charles Manson. The point of the image was obvious. This ordinary, good-looking youth, appearing much like anyone else his age, somehow became a monster. Monsters usually don't look like monsters. That was the whole point. Rolling Stone got it exactly right, both in the photo and their accompanying text and article.

But of course, getting it right isn't good enough today. Immediately there was a massive clamor of protest from various agitators -- most of whom appeared to have not even read the article (perhaps incapable of reading words with that many syllables?) -- screaming that the photo "glorified" Tsarnaev. Protests and boycotts were instantly announced -- major store chains rushed to announce they'd refuse to carry the issue, and stupidity reigned in the spotlight yet again.

Then, a Mass. State Police Sgt., who had access to vast numbers of potentially evidentiary and other photos (many of them rather gruesome), related to the case and who had been specifically ordered to treat them as confidential materials, decided on his own to release them to the media to provide what he felt was balance to his own distorted viewpoint of the Rolling Stone photo.

In doing this, he blew it big time. His future in law enforcement is now in question, as well it should be.

Not only has he potentially destroyed the evidentiary value of those photos -- lawyers are already chomping at the bit on this one -- but he has demonstrated exactly how people with personal agendas result in damaging imagery on the Internet that can never be withdrawn.

We've seen this again and again with law enforcement and other first responders. Gruesome photos of accident victims, innocent parties who happened to be present at crime scenes, and all manner of other photos taken by officers and others by virtue of their official presence at a scene, then dumped onto the Internet (either directly or through third parties as in today's case) where they will multiply forever, and contribute to dangerously misguided calls for Internet censorship and micro-management of search engine results.

It's the source of these photos in the first place that is the problem, and while it's easy to say that Tsarnaev isn't a sympathetic example -- and he's not -- the violation of official duties and oaths represented by the unauthorized release of such photos in any context is a matter of great concern, that undermines faith in police agencies and emergency responders in general.

Perhaps this officer thought he was some sort of Edward Snowden with a badge, out to personally right the wrong that he fantasized Rolling Stone had committed.

But even apart from the potential damage this officer has done to an important case against a mass murderer, by taking the release of such materials into his own hands, he suggests to everyone that law enforcement cannot be trusted to maintain control over sensitive photos and other information, and the damage he's caused in that respect may be impossible to overestimate.


Posted by Lauren at July 18, 2013 06:59 PM | Permalink
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