27-year-old UPS driver Frank Ordonez was killed as police officers riddled his vehicle with bullets Friday. A pair of suspected robbers had hijacked his truck as he drove through Broward County in Southeastern Florida. Ordonez was an unwilling participant in a long and dangerous chase, as police followed the truck speeding through red lights, finally stopping when they hit heavy, rush hour traffic.
19 police officers opened fire on the truck from all angles with bystanders all around, making no attempt to negotiate the situation. Unsurprisingly, the suspects, Ordonez and another unnamed nearby commuter, 70-year-old union representative Richard Cutshaw, were killed.
UPS, Ordonez ‘s employer, immediately released a statement claiming that they were “deeply saddened” to learn their employee was a victim of a “senseless act of violence.” But the postal giant went further, thanking the police for their actions in killing Ordonez and three others. “We appreciate law enforcement’s service and will cooperate with the authorities as they continue the investigation,” the communiqué, which has since been deleted from Twitter, read.
The enormous delivery company, which employs around 400,000 people in the United States alone and announced total revenues of nearly $72 billion last year, has not offered any financial help to the victim’s family, including the two young daughters he leaves behind who started a GoFundMe to help cover the funeral expenses.
In contrast, Ordonez’s union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an organization with over 1.3 million members, issued an announcement that he was “murdered while delivering packages,” offering their solidarity to his family.
Ordonez’s family is also quite clear whom they blame for his untimely death. His stepfather Joe Merino, a former UPS employee himself, decried “the negligence, the irresponsibility, the lack of life, the lack of concern…the disregard for the life of the victim” the police showed.
“They murdered him,” he concluded, claiming that police turned the area into “the wild, wild west” and a “war zone” by spraying a highly congested public area with bullets. “How can this happen in today’s day and age?” Merino asked.
His sister Genny Merino took to Twitter to vent her anger at Florida police; “Today I lost my brother, because of the fucking negligence and stupidity of the police. Instead of negotiating with a hostage situation they just shot everyone. (Including my brother) please retweet this so everyone can be aware how stupid these cops are” she stated. At the time of reporting the message had 200,000 retweets.
Today I lost my brother, because of the fucking negligence and stupidity of the police. Instead of negotiating with a hostage situation they just shot everyone. (Including my brother) please retweet this so everyone can be aware how stupid these cops are. pic.twitter.com/DyFN2ZUoAX
— genny♡ (@geneviemerino) December 6, 2019
Media whitewashes police violence
Media have been careful to obscure the police’s actions in its coverage of Ordonez’s killing.
NBC News, for example, ran the headline “Chase, shootout involving hijacked UPS truck in Florida lead to 4 deaths” which does not even mention the perpetrator (the police) and is full of statements from law enforcement, presenting them as a positive, even heroic force in the event.
Meanwhile, CNN’s story read “The UPS employee who died after his truck was hijacked was covering the route for another driver, brother says” which insinuates the robbers killed Ordonez themselves and does not discuss any police involvement until halfway through the article.
This framing of events is consistent with a broader pattern of whitewashing police violence. “Officer involved shooting” is a ubiquitous phrase in corporate media to describe a police killing or murder. Outlets like CNN and NBC also obscure the perpetrators’ identity by using the passive voice and by referring to events like the Broward County shooting as an “altercation” or an “incident,” making sure to include plenty of quotes from police spokespeople.
Another common tactic is to smear the victim. One CNN guest described Michael Brown, shot by a police officer in 2014, as a “thug” who “set upon” his killer. Freddie Gray, meanwhile, who died of spinal injuries after being brutalized by the Baltimore police department, was denigrated by CNN as “the son of an illiterate heroin addict.”
In contrast, the police are “regularly shielded from accountability for excessive use of force within the United States,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who allege that they enjoy “impunity” for killings.
Being shot by police is one of the leading causes of death for Americans of Ordonez’s age, and particularly men of color, like he was. Despite this, the ACLU notes that in the ten years between 2005 and 2015 only 54 officers were even charged after killing civilians. And when trials did take place, the police are consistently held to a less stringent legal standard for the use of firearms and for killing others, making convictions exceptionally rare.
Another example of police impunity is on domestic violence issues. Multiple studies have shown that at least 40 percent of police officers have beaten their spouses, although the number is likely considerably higher. The National Center for Women and Policing note that fellow law enforcement officers consistently conspire to cover up the crimes of their fellow cops.
Police themselves are well aware of their impunity. After Eric Garner was killed by police officers in New York City, a police officer-owned clothing brand began selling shirts that read “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law”: a reference Garner’s infamous final words: “I can’t breathe.” Therefore it appears unlikely that Ordonez’s family will receive an acceptable answer as to why he was killed while just trying to do his job.
Feature photo | Bullet holes are seen around the UPS logo on a truck at the scene of a police shooting, Dec. 5, 2019, in Miramar, Fla. Brynn Anderson | AP
Alan MacLeod is a MintPress Staff Writer as well as an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.