Passive Voice of Police Shooting in Indonesia

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I have to admit that police reputation recently is poor. Especially if you live in the USA, the death of George Floyd sparking this mass of big protest to racism and police brutality. News is everywhere, media are starting to give special spot on their headline with police-related keyword because of SEO. Thus, this raises the question: how they serve the news to you? Does the news have a certain narrative that will unconsciously alter your opinion?

There are many ways on how certain text can create a narrative. For example, you can remove the doer (someone who did something) by using passive construction. Recently I stumbled upon a Reddit post that talked about the grammar of police shooting. In this post, based on several examples of tweets and police press releases it is proved that there is an indication when the police are the ones who do the shooting, they tend to avoid active sentence construction. Take an example that I’ve taken from Dana Sitar article here:

That tweet was taken from some kind of flash news by The New York Times. There are three news items in which you can see that in the second sentence when a people that was not an official did something that was publicly unpleasant the passive voice is used on the sentence. This is a tweet from a certain media, what about that text or information that was published by the officials?

It is natural for a social being to protect their “face” in order to uphold their honor or reputation. This is no exception for a governmental organization such as the police. If the media who is not related to the police use a passive sentence of course you can guess that police are using passive construction too. From a certain person on the internet comment on that Reddit post that I mentioned earlier this good lad give a lurker like me an example from George Floyd press release by Minneapolis Police entitled:

Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction

From that title above passive construction is used and the victim (Floyd) is being focused in front of the sentence instead of the official that involved in the accident. This is an indication that there’s a certain narrative here that the officials just doing their job and victim death just an accident.

What about the police shooting in another country, if you search “police shoot” or “has shot by police” in your own language on the search engine you can find numerous relevant cases to the police shooting. To analyze that news from all around the world requires lots of time and I don’t have it now. So, let’s start small by analyzing an early example that I found here, in my country where I live right now: Indonesia. I’m not going to explain the political landscape here, but what you need to know here is that police have power and they want to be respected.

After I’ve done some research on search feature in, a well-renowned media in Indonesia I found something interesting. First, police shooting did exist here and Kompas is using both passive and active construction. For this little study I search two phrases in Kompas search, “polisi menembak” or police shoot (active voice) and “tertembak polisi” or has shot by police (passive construction). I know this is still early but let’s make a simple hypothesis based on a small amount of data that I get from those phrases.

First, after I search the active form, I found several data such as this:

Data 1 translation: Involved in a brawl, Police shoot his partner, then shoot himself
Data 2 translation: The chronology of man enraged in the police office after got a ticket…
Data 3 translation: Complete chronology, police officer shooting his wife and army member…

From around 30 or 40 data that appear in the search result, I choose these data because they are recently reported. It is new and appears on the first or second page of the search result so let’s use them as a small example. Unlike some examples, in English, that indicates there’s a tendency in using a passive sentence in Bahasa Indonesia active sentence that I’ve found is incredibly direct. From these data, a police officer is placed as the subject of the sentence. Thus, it makes the officials a direct doer of the crime. So, in short, the media is incredibly direct in writing their news of a police officer being a perpetrator of certain crimes.

After that, what about passive construction? Yes, it does exist. From my brief observation, this passive construction is more commonly used than the active one. When I open pages 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the searches result the news that reported using passive construction on the title is more recent. On the same page, the search result shows that news titles that using passive construction are outdated. I frequently served news from 2010, 2012, or 2009, etc. Thus, for equal comparison I choose this news as an example:

Data 4 translation: Police officer in Medan was assumed death shot by his own partner, this …
Data 5 translation: Stabbing police as he is going to be arrested, This phone thief was shot to death.
Data 6 translation: perpetrators of embezzlement have shot death by Police, Denizen then block the road …

From what you can see in the data 4 to 6 passive construction is being used to put the police officer as the doer in the back of the sentence. However, since I used keyword police in the search bar the result that appears was really direct, stating that it is specifically police who did the shoot. In the screenshot from NY Times earlier, Police did not state clearly and boldly. The writer prefers the word “officer” that can refer to any kind of officers such as a customs officer, an election officer, or even your postman officer. In Bahasa Indonesia, we have a word for an officer that is “petugas”. If somebody wants to research this topic into a journal article which needs many data, word petugas or officer must not miss from the equation. Thus, based on the data 4 to 6 I can create early hypotheses that Passive construction is used in Kompas media to depict police officer as the object of the sentence in a passive construction. However, further research is required because the word “officer” is missing in this article.

In conclusion, Kompas as a media that branded themselves neutral here has proven it. Based on data 1 to 6 for now, I can conclude that they are really direct when there’s a need in mentioning a police officer as the doer of crime. However, there are still so many missing links in this article, the word officer is out of the discussion. Thus, further analysis with more data is required to analyze this topic.



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