My son and I have a two hour daily commute to his school, so we listen to audiobooks to pass the time as we drive. Well, over the weekend I was going to be parking in unfamiliar areas of large urban center so I removed all audiobooks in the car; yesterday I forgot to put them back in the car prior to us leaving for school. Then we did something that we rarely ever do, which was listen to the morning news on Washington, DC’s largest news radio station.
The first story we heard was about a calamity that struck on the coast of Alabama. Over the weekend there was some sort of large event — which was never clarified as being either onshore or on the water or even how the celebration was relevant to the story —when a violent storm struck. Five boaters were unaccounted for. Three bodies were recovered, while search efforts were ongoing. The names of those lost or killed were never disclosed, there was no discussion of the families, much less audio clips of them or even quotes. Nor did we ever find out if the boaters were on leisure craft, fishing, or with the government or Coast Guard or who knows what. Most of the airtime was devoted to a police spokesperson describing the search and rescue efforts, and communicating how badly they felt regarding the situation. So, the story of people lost at sea was really the story of how bad police feel about things.
The next story was coverage of a major weather event on the coast of Texas, which was never described as being either connected or unconnected to the major weather event along the coast of Alabama. While there was devastation resulting in thousands of people being without power, mainly what we heard about were the weather reporters out in the field being pummeled by hail the size of softballs. This is because there were audio recordings of them trying to report while their vehicle windows were being smashed to pieces as they huddled inside the vehicles. So the story of devastation in Texas was really the story of how bad the media felt having to be part of the devastation.
Finally we got to the fantastically destructive earthquake in Nepal. At the time the death toll was over 2000 with at least 100,000 homeless and full villages being wiped out. But this was not the story. The real story was the search and rescue team from Fairfax, Virginia flying out with 45 tons worth of supplies — what kind of supplies? Who knows! — With the goal of providing relief and support efforts in Nepal. No one from Nepal spoke or was even quoted. We did learn a lot about those people from Fairfax, Virginia. So the story was not the plight of people with dark skin who speak another language in their time of need, it was about how good the the people from the United States are.
Then we had several stories in a row covering local events here in the Baltimore area. Not one of the three stories discussed the inciting incident where a man was murdered for no reason by the police, nor were the police or the investigation discussed, nor were any remedies, stopgap measures, or long-term plans for ensuring public safety on the part of the government discussed. All three stories focused on not the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters and their efforts at multiple locations over the last week, nor their dialogue, nor their reasons for gathering.
Of course there were no quotes from any of the protesters or organizers. What we did hear was a lot of admonishment about the police cars that were attacked and that one 7-11 that was robbed. We were told over and over again not to act out, not to be senseless, not to be stupid. We were told to respect the city. We were told to respect the family. Government officials were very annoyed and upset with the citizens, judging from the tone of their voices. The closest the news came to touching on what was actually happening was when the third news story was wrapped up with a description of “crowds gathering to express sadness, and even anger” with this tone of utter disbelief on “in anger.”
I’d kept the news going because they promised to have a story about an attempted abduction of a young boy at a local elementary school. I wanted to know the details, and thought it might be a good launching point for discussing safety with my son. That did turn out to be the case. But then in the interest of fully discussing safety with my son I thought I had to also discuss what we had just heard on the news and what the function of the news is.
The last time I checked Maryland is 30% African-American, with some of the most affluent African-American communities and the entire nation. My son, despite passing as white, is related to black people and has a father with dark skin and many, many friends and instructors and physicians all of the African diaspora. We talk about racism frequently, and he is very interested in history so we have lots of discussions about slavery, such as what my family went through, but also the struggles relating to abolition, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. I also make sure he keeps up on current events, such as the incidents in Ferguson and New York and Baltimore and elsewhere.
I figured it was time for him to understand that racism is not found in these scattered and obvious incidents. It is in the everyday, minute-by-minute actions and observations of those around us and those in positions of authority.
Which brings us back to our discussion of the news and its function. My son and I talked about how the news used to present multiple sides of an issue, and there was time devoted to actually covering the full aspects of a particular story. We discussed how in the 1980s the monopoly laws were repealed allowing media conglomerations to grow out of control, and now we’re stuck with 15 seconds of story devoted to a single view.
Listening to the news broadcast made me sadder than any of the deaths or violence that happened, because of what it represented at the societal level. So I discussed with my son how to analyze what you’re being told so that you can see how you’re being told what to want, to think, and to feel. That police feel bad, that the media feels bad, the people in other countries are not as valuable as those here, that it is unacceptable to express anger at the uncontrolled violence against our citizens.
We discussed the availability of information for free on the Internet, and reading newspapers, and how anything you read will be presented with the interest of pushing one view point or another, but since there is a need to fill up physical space there always be enough details for you to make your own decisions about things. The mass media conglomerates are tied to all forms of industry and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in order to generate revenue.
This is exactly why violent action will work as a force of change. I dislike that fact. I know people in law enforcement, and people in the Maryland National Guard, and of course I care about Maryland, so I don’t want to see any more people being hurt or any more businesses being wrecked. At the same time the authorities have cultivated a situation under which nothing but violent action will affect change. For people so interested in ensuring peaceful resolution to society’s problems the authorities have continually decided not to do so. With every single incident of unnecessary violence and murder against the citizens of the United States authorities are afforded the opportunity for peaceful resolution, the opportunity to change the system, to make whatever adjustments are necessary. The reason people are freaking out is that lawmakers and law enforcement continuously decline to make use of the peaceful alternative through indictments and changes to regulations.
Now Baltimore starting to burn. It will be impossible to attract new investments, and businesses there currently will begin to pull out. Furthermore there are the tax implications. After the anthrax attacks of late 2001 the tourism industry in the DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia area dropped down to a flat line. There were entire hotels left empty, tour sites completely unvisited, mass layoffs across the region. In the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks who in their right minds would want to travel here? The loss in tax revenue resulted in a budget shortfall and the Democrat governor lost out to the Republican challenger next time around, and Maryland rarely ever has Republican governors. As you can imagine politicians in Maryland understand what is at stake if businesses burn in Baltimore.
If the media were even just 1/16 of the way savvy they would understand that by delivering their full court press — being on message with every story — they reveal the fears and weaknesses of those in authority. What is happening in Baltimore is what they are afraid of, and if it keeps happening they might actually have to make a change. Or, they could… You know… Take things seriously and make it clear the law applying to citizens also applies to citizens who are members of the police force. Then all this would be avoided.
Like in the case of the March Madness riots last month. The justice system was swift, firm, and fair in dealing with those rioters despite the fact that they were white as opposed to black, and what was equally impressive was their portrayal as animals in the media.
I’m not serious, of course. While there were riots related to the basketball games — which you must admit are far more serious than incidents of people being snatched off the streets and murdered for no reason — the justice system and media did not deal with the situation seriously.
To those calling for or questioning why the protesters don’t protest murders of blacks by blacks, that subject was covered succinctly by authors G. Arthur Brown and Garrett Cook in a Facebook discussion yesterday, during which they described how in the black community the families of those murdered by blacks can reasonably expect justice, and frequently there are protests and vigils and even riots related to serious criminal activity within the black community. Even the corporate radio news covers such actions.
I am hoping that after the situation unfolding in Baltimore we won’t have a need for more violent action. I seriously hope authorities across the nation get it through their heads and start making some changes. Otherwise the rest of the nation will become Baltimore.
In the meantime my son and I are returning to our audio books.