The real news is crazy enough. There is absolutely no need for anyone to manufacture it. But yet, it seems our social media feeds and airwaves are constantly blinking with flashy headlines that at the very least make an already bad story seem worse, or at worst are intentionally misleading or just downright untrue.
In the fast-paced, click-bait covered world we now live in, many folks don’t take the time to read beyond a 140-character tweet or even a six-word headline. And because of that, people get all worked up over something and start attacking an issue (and then each other) over topics that should not really require an extra dose of blood pressure and/or anti-anxiety medication.
And this constant state of having our cyber chests all puffed out and ready to go occurs over topics arising from a white house on Pennsylvania Avenue to a glass plaza on Government Street right here in Mobile.
The Mobile City Council introduced an ordinance this week that would give officers the discretion to write tickets for some minor offenses rather than having to go through the time-consuming process of throwing the offender in the back of the police cruiser and hauling them down to Metro to be processed.
The offenses include such things as public intoxication, disorderly conduct and failure to obey an officer, among others — including possession of marijuana 2nd degree — which got everyone all worked up when WKRG posted a story on its Facebook page with a headline that said Mayor Sandy Stimpson was seeking to “decriminalize marijuana.”
In fairness, some of the other local stations also referred to it as decriminalization and used graphics featuring pot plants. WKRG used Stimpson’s head next to a large pot leaf. (Hey, at least they didn’t Photoshop his head on a “Half Baked” poster I guess.)
For those who actually read the WKRG story, it did give the full context but the misleading headline on the post gave folks the false impression Mobile would soon become the next Amsterdam, with Mayor Stimpson possibly growing dreads and passing the dutchie to the City Council on the left-hand side.
Furthermore, a poll WKRG conducted with a choice of “Just legalize it” gave the false impression that was also a possibility being considered by the council.
This did not go unnoticed by Mayor Stimpson, who by all accounts has not started sporting a rasta cap and listening to Snoop Dogg just yet. His campaign sent out an email directly slamming the station, saying it was “disappointing that WKRG is more concerned with producing click-bait than accurate news.” Ouch.
I guess we should all just be grateful it was a story about Mobile. My pet peeve is when all of the local TV stations post headlines from other markets trying to make you think it is happening here, with headlines like “Man accused of marrying an ear of corn.” Dang it! I should have known that was from Nebraska, not Wilmer. Duped again! (For full disclosure, I just totally made up that headline. #fakenews)
But I digress.
Anyway, the pot story got more than 600 shares (at last check). And predictably, people totally ignored what the ordinance actually calls for and just started debating whether or not marijuana should be legalized, which is totally NOT what this is even about. Sigh.
Once again, this measure would simply give the officers the DISCRETION to write a ticket for these offenses if they felt a trip to Metro wasn’t warranted. The officer would be able to judge this on a case-by-case basis. The penalties and fines would ultimately be EXACTLY the same for the offenders.
“Under the current system, officers are required to make a custodial arrest of individuals committing these minor offenses, which necessitates the officer coming off the street as he or she drives the individual to the jail for processing.
Additionally, under the current system, the arresting officer must be present at all court appearances, which often only end in a fine. This new criminal code cuts down on the number of custodial arrests significantly, allowing our police officers to stay on the streets and increasing patrol for the citizens of Mobile, without changing the punishment for these offenses,” the statement from the mayor read.
As the law stands now, even when they do take offenders down to the jail for these offenses, they bond out almost immediately. So, really, what is the point? It is just a massive time suck for the officers. This is simply about streamlining the process. Again, the punishments and fines are the same.
This is a great idea that has worked well in other cities. This will keep officers out on the streets fighting far more dangerous criminals. I know I am far more concerned about carjackers and armed robbers than a dude with a doobie in his pocket. (Say that three times fast.)
This is not going to make our city become the number one travel destination of the Cheech and Chong fan club. Anyone who tries to twist this into that false narrative for clicks or political purposes is being disingenuous.
And sadly, these news stories may very well give the impression that it is legal to smoke weed on the streets of Mobile now. (“Oh I’m sorry officer, I swear I saw on the news where it was decriminalized. I think I even voted in an online poll!”) This issue does not need to be treated so haphazardly by the media.
I am hopeful the council will not be deterred by the faux frenzy on social media created by an unfortunate headline. The ordinance has been tabled for further consideration by the council, but it should ultimately be passed unanimously. Because it just makes good sense.
The only things that should go “Up in Smoke” are these horribly misleading headlines and the ridiculous amount of bureaucratic red tape our officers are forced to “weed” through every day.
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