Constable: Officer's death yields ugly rush to judgment on social media

Within an hour of the first hint of police activity Tuesday morning in Fox Lake, I overheard Daily Herald editor Pete Nenni talking on the phone with reporter Lee Filas. Not only did Filas know that an officer had been shot, he knew that the officer was Lt. Charles J. Gliniewicz, a well-known and popular veteran of the force. Filas knew Gliniewicz from working with the officer on stories. And Filas knew that Gliniewicz was dead at 9:15 a.m.

Instead of rushing that information onto our website, we waited several hours to give police time to notify Gliniewicz's loved ones, including a son in the military. Throughout the day and night, Daily Herald reporters, photographers and editors spent hours verifying tips and separating fact from rumor before publishing updates on our website.

Social media does not share our restraint.

Aside from faulty media reports about a woman being one of the suspects or about one of the suspects being captured, the police officer's slaying opened a can of worms that many were eager to exploit.

"Is this a case of another black-on-white crime that is not being reported?" pondered one commentator who saw that police were searching for two white males and one black male and figured that fanning racial flames might be the way to go.

With no arrests, no motive and scant details, the shocking death in a generally peaceful suburb ignited a national online racial debate that added #FoxLake to debates about #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter, ramblings about the abuse of power by a few officers around the nation and a handful of fatal shootings of police officers in other states.

Without knowing anything about what happened out there in that Fox Lake marsh, lots of folks were ready to rumble without an ounce of information to back up their points.

"No one can say we didn't see this coming with all of the systematic violence by police against unarmed civilians. I feel bad for the officer and his family, but you reap what you sow," one reader posted on Facebook.

When another reader responded, "Your (sic) an idiot," the death of a husband and father suddenly became fodder for even the most trivial of grammar arguments about the correct spelling of "you're."

Is this what we've become? A pillar of the community, a husband and father of four sons, is killed less than a month before he was set to retire at age 52, and people use his death as a platform for snarky grammar barbs.

I've seen no evidence that race had anything to do with the killing of Gliniewicz, who was white, or even if the officer's initial decision to follow the trio of men whom he thought seemed suspicious. For all we know, Gliniewicz stepped in because he thought the two white males were about to harm the black male, or maybe he thought the black man was about to commit a crime against the white men. Or maybe he thought they were three strangers about to commit a drug deal. We don't know. Public speculation has no credence, no value. But it does stir the pot.

"The whole thing is George Zimmerman fault," read a post from someone who managed to link the murder of an Illinois police officer to the Florida shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a civilian.

"Most of all quit playing the race card, 95 percent of this country is sick of it," scolded another poster on the story about Gliniewicz's death.

"The president began this process by denouncing the police and the military every chance he got," read another, who figures President Obama somehow shares blame for the Fox Lake officer's death.

"American police are wildly dangerous to everyone else around them, their families, and their pets," concluded another.

Some express a desire for the three suspects to die painful, slow deaths. A person who dislikes the American system of justice insists, "No courts, jailtime. parol, etc, etc, just take them out."

One person had the audacity to criticize Gliniewicz, a 30-year police veteran with many honors, for not staying put until help arrived.

It is possible to think that there are cases where white police officers overreacted or are guilty of crimes against unarmed black suspects and still be a strong supporter of police officers in general. It is possible to condemn the execution-style murder of a white police officer by a black gunman and still recognize the social inequalities that affect minorities in our nation. Wanting to prevent shooting deaths of or by police doesn't make a person racist.

One social media commentator witnessed that massive manhunt and said, "Wow imagine if the police put this much effort in when a civilian is shot." Another concluded that it was "as much proof as you need that cops only care about themselves."

Reasonable people know that isn't true. Reasonable people know that so many conclusions made in this case aren't true.

In today's world, where people get frustrated if it takes more than 30 seconds for movies to download on our phones, we want to be able to assign a motive, wrap up a murder case and assign blame before lunch.

So we create these ugly, racist, misguided, evil scenarios, and unleash them on a public more than willing to respond with their own bile.

People say, "This has to stop," in response to killings of unarmed black teens, police officers, reporters on live TV, people sitting in churches, children huddled in classrooms and people all across our nation. Then some of them feed that beast via social media.

This rush to judgment is wrong. This has to stop.

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