The coverage of the murder of Joshua Brown last Friday night, Oct. 4, at the Atera apartments on Cedar Springs Road was peculiar. And I’m being polite.
The apartments were identified in the original police report, but news accounts gave the location as “the 4600 block of Cedar Springs Road.” And Cedar Springs Road was identified as “near the Medical District” in a number of news reports. Another news report called the neighborhood “near Turtle Creek.”
Dear print and broadcast news media: Cedar Springs Road is the heart of O-A-K L-A-W-N. Oak Lawn is not a synonym for gay. Joshua Brown, as far as we know, wasn’t gay. Straight people live in Oak Lawn, too.
Calling Cedar Springs Road “near the Medical District” is the same as identifying a crime committed on Frankfort Road in Far North Dallas as being “near Plano.” It’s like reporting Dallas County Commissioners Court meets near Tarrant County. Or even identifying an event that took place in Texas as happening near Oklahoma. Tell me where it happened, not somewhere near someplace else — unless that place is relevant.
I live “near the Medical District.” More than half the residents in my building are medical students, interns and residents. Open the gate from my parking lot and you face the Medical District across the street. And that’s relevant if you’re reporting on something that happened to one of those med students in my building. Other than that, we’re in Oak Lawn. Or in a very specific report, we’re in the Maple Springs neighborhood of Oak Lawn.
Why are reporters so afraid of mentioning Oak Lawn in their reports? I know developers think it’s easier to market Turtle Creek or Uptown or now the Medical District. But they’re all Oak Lawn. Well, part of the Medical District is in Oak Lawn.
So why is this important? At 10:30 p.m. on Friday night, people were driving up and down Cedar Springs Road going to the bars three blocks away, going to restaurants in Oak Lawn, just passing through on their way elsewhere. There was traffic in that part of Oak Lawn. Someone who was driving on Cedar Springs Road in Oak Lawn saw a gray sedan racing out of Atera. Someone might have seen the gray sedan further up or down the street. But when you hear that a murder took place “near the Medical District” and you were in Oak Lawn, you’re not going to pay attention or realize you may have information detectives can use. This case is very upsetting, and it’s getting national coverage. Reporting it wrong locally matters.
Next, I just want to parse out another piece of reporting on Brown’s murder. In order to do this, you have to speak police and be able to translate from police-speak into English. According to an email sent out by the Dallas PD’s public information office, “The complainant did not have any ID cards on him.”
Let’s translate that from police-speak to English: First, “complainant” is police talk for victim. Victims don’t have to file complaints themselves to be called the complainant in a police report. Complainants may be dead before they have a chance to complain.
Brown may not have had an official ID on him, such as a driver’s license, student ID or other state-issued ID that police would require for a positive ID before notifying next-of-kin. But police surely had a pretty good idea who he was from the minute they picked up his body and transported it to Parkland.
How do we know that? A few hours before he was found shot on the Atera property, Brown posted a video on Facebook. In the 11-minute video, he said he had things he had to get done. At one point he’s carrying a laundry basket. Toward the end, he places a credit card and what looks like his wallet in his pocket as he is getting ready to go out. That was several hours before the shooting, and a wallet or the credit card could have come out of his pocket anytime in between the time he streamed that video and the time he died. If just the credit card remained in his pocket, that’s not identification, and while the police may have known who it was from a name on a credit card or even thinking they recognized his face, they couldn’t make an official positive identification from just that.
Another translation from police-speak to English: “There are no suspects or motives at this time” means “Police have ruled nothing out as a motive and have ruled no one out as a suspect, but there’s no physical evidence linking anyone to the crime and lots of theories about what happened.”
— David Taffet