Joint 3rd Place Scholarship Award
University of California,
Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Hanna Qassis is an experienced TV broadcast journalist who has reported on air for Press TV in the West Bank for 3 years covering politics, economics, arts, military raids, clashes and demonstrations.
He is a graduate of Birzeit University with a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in International Studies.
Hanna is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Longform TV & Documentary program.
While studying at UC Berkeley, Hanna has covered politics for Oakland North, the journalism school’s online news publication. He has also filmed and produced several news stories for California News Service on topics like gentrification in Oakland and music that brought together artists in conflicting African nations.
Hanna Metri Qassis
The old saying “no news is good news” gives the understanding that most news is bad. Images and reports of police officers and the military applying excessive use of force against demonstrators in the US and worldwide certainly fall under this category, with journalists flocking to Ferguson, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro and Sana’a, among many other places, to report on the protests.
While this coverage has made George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson into household names, almost no one knows who Chris Magnus is. That’s because Chris Magnus, the Police Chief of Richmond, California, has not shot and killed anyone. What he did do, however, has prevented his racially diverse city from turning into bad news. During the aftermath of a Missouri grand jury’s decision to not prosecute officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, Magnus joined his constituents in protesting the killing of unarmed civilians by the police, holding a sign that read “#BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Although Magnus was criticized by the police union for attending the protest in his uniform, the city of Richmond stayed peaceful- unlike neighboring Berkeley and Oakland, which witnessed violence, vandalism, and arrests.
The relative peace in Richmond isn’t just the result of Magnus’ four and a half-hour march, but the effect of nearly a decade of his influence on reforms within the city’s police department. Magnus has been credited with implementing a variety of programs to reduce the use of and reliance on lethal force, including special training courses, improved staffing deployments to crisis situations, thorough review processes for all cases involving the use of force, and training and equipping officers with nonlethal force tactics, such as tasers and pepper spray. This is in addition to community policing programs Magnus implemented in order for his officers to have an integrated, proactive role within the community.
And there’s proof to show that Magnus’ approach is working. Richmond recorded 11 criminal homicides in 2014, making it the lowest total on record dating to 1971. According to Contra Costa Times, the annual violent crime rate in the city dropped 13 percent in December of 2014, whereas property crime was down 16 percent.
The constructive manner in which Magnus engaged in the protests might not have received the same amount of media attention as an incident involving law enforcement in the Bay Area at around the same time- when an undercover California Highway Patrol detective pulled a gun on protesters during a march in Oakland- but is his story really less significant to our lives?
Journalists, like police, have responsibilities to people. In both cases, these responsibilities are guided by ethics- a global code of conduct that dictates our roles in shaping just, transparent, and democratic societies. In chasing the money shot, media is relying on its own excessive force. In the heat of the moment, pulling back from the fire to focus on stories like Richmond can help create lasting, positive change. Such stories provide necessary and timely reflection on the problem and on solutions. Providing a positive model also helps people to better visualize and articulate their demands, increasing the chances that policy makers will implement the change people need to see.
It’s up to media to break the bad-news cycle. While the triggers for recent protests have varied across the world, the underlying message from the protesters was standard issue. People, in the United States, in Yemen, in Russia, and in Palestine, desperately need reform. They need to feel that their rights matter, that their governments, their elected officials, their police officers, are listening and willing to work with, and not against them. The more we cover success stories like Richmond, the more likely other law enforcement agencies, militaries, and governments are to feel pressure to follow suit. There is undoubtedly a Richmond in every corner of the world, it’s up to journalists to find these unreported stories and set the headlines that move people beyond hashtags and towards accountable, transparent, and meaningful change.