“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
– Malcolm X
Media is a powerful tool. What is chosen to be covered, what is left out, timing of coverage, and how a story is portrayed all shape the public’s awareness. While the miscarriage of this power is not new, it is no less disappointing following unrest in Baltimore on Monday.
Since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, major media outlets did not only ignore a week’s worth of positive protesting until Monday afternoon; it also perpetuated some of the Baltimore Police Department’s outright lies (e.g., “gangs called truce to kill police” and “Freddie’s neck was previously injured in a car accident“).
Even days later, looting and rioting are the main discussion as opposed to the ongoing peaceful dissent, the systemic issues behind them, or the community-organized cleanup and lunch distribution for students during school cancellations.
Baltimore City Council member Nick Mosby addressed the bias in an interview with Fox News reporter Leland Vittert.
“We’ve certainly seen this in other cities, obviously Ferguson comes to mind,” Vittert said. To which Mosby replied, “We also see it at rallies like at Kentucky, when Kentucky lost their basketball game… We see crowds that loot and flip over cars and stuff. But unfortunately all the 95% of the positive rallying that’s been occurring here, the national media focuses on this. And that’s the problem.”
Most networks seem fixated on inviting activists and community leaders for the sole purpose of persuading them to repeatedly condemn outrage, praise police reaction or blame Monday’s events on police “restraint” (excluding the little rock fight officers engaged in with children).
While Fox News created its own version of events in which “boulders” were thrown at police, CNN is just completely clueless (e.g., Wolf Blitzer‘s shock over riots and silence as Joseph Kent was snatched by police live on air).
Activist DeRay McKesson, who has been a prominent voice since the Ferguson protests in August, challenged Wolf on air (and it was wonderful).
“You are suggesting this idea that broken windows are worse than broken spines, right?” he asked. “And what we know to be true is the police are killing people everywhere. They’re killing people here. Six police officers were involved in the killing of Freddie Gray, and we’re looking for justice there. And that’s real. The violence the police have been inflicting on communities of color has been sustained and deep.”
More shocking than why there would be rioting in an American city is the lack of media inquiry as to why children were released early from school with no access to public transit, as it had been shut down by police.
“Police were forcing busses to stop and unload all their passengers,” local teacher Meghann Harris stated on Facebook. “Then, [Frederick Douglass High School] students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various busses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who looked like they were waiting for police to do something. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear, marching toward any small social clique of students…It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.”
Instead of investigating the disaster parents and teachers like Ms. Harris describe, major national outlets have now zoned in on Toya Graham, the “hero mom” who is being hailed for beating her teenage son for his involvement in Monday’s protests.
As comedian and actress Kerry Coddett asked on Larry Wilmore‘s Nightly Show, where are the mothers of these neck-snapping officers to help reign them in as well?