Is “Officer-Involved Shooting” A Vague Phrase That Deflects Blame?


An online petition asking journalists to stop using the term “officer-involved shooting” had more than 43,000 signatures as of today. says it is intended for New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, McClatchy CEO Patrick Talamantes, and Gracia Martore, Gannett's CEO. The petition, attributed to “Nathan Empsall, former newspaper reporter,” argues that the phrase’s “vague wording deflects all potential blame from the officer, obscures what actually happened, and gives all benefit of the doubt to armed authorities, encouraging readers to do the same.”

Empsall contends that the phrasing “makes it even harder to hold rogue cops or broken police departments accountable.” He quotes a law professor who says that, “If a dog bites a child, we would not describe the incident as a ‘dog-involved biting’, and we would find it odd to hear it stated this way. We would simply say that a dog bit a child.” Empsall says the nation’s largest newspaper chains should be told “No more lazy language! Abandon the phrase ‘officer-involved shooting’ today!” (Empsall’s post did not disclose details of his background as a journalist.)

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