Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hidden in plain sight; protesting violence in minority communities

This post was originally about the protests in Baltimore after the police officers who killed Freddie Grey were acquitted.  However, this post explains the dynamics around protest and how we understand protests like the Black Lives Matter protests.   

Question what you know; the media's role in our understanding
First, the lesson is in the media's role in reporting the events. We have learned the enormous impact the media has on US citizens. This is true in the case of coverage of the events in Baltimore. The coverage remains largely focused on the rioters. However, thousands of people protested peacefully. And hundreds helped to clean the city and unite and work together to make the best of a bad day. Including these preschool kids:

This article from the Baltimore Sun is written by someone who attended the peaceful protests.

And this article from Black Westchester highlights the enormous number of people who protested peacefully.

Despite the large peaceful protest, the media will focus on the color of the rioters and paint a broad racial brush over the incident turning the riot into a condemnation of the black urban poor and all those associated with it. But this rarely happens when those in the majority behave badly. When that happens, the offenders might be denigrated, but not their whole race or their whole social class or culture. Here is a satirical news report demonstrating how silly it would look if the media actually did that:

Putting the cart before the horse; Why are they protesting in the first place? 
Another aspect of Baltimore is the criticism of the rioters without acknowledging the issues that lead people to the outrage that sparks riots.  Here is a quote from Dr. King:

 "But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity. Rev. Dr. M.L.King, Jr., March 14, 1968
And this article in the Atlantic that was written by a guy who grew up in Baltimore and knows the dynamics of the community well.  Similar to Dr. King, the author states:
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray's death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray's death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.")
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
This article from the Baltimore Sun documents many incidents that have created a feeling of disrespect and not being taken seriously among the poor black community living in Baltimore.
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.
And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all.
The use of unfocused, random violence in the US is a response to not being taken seriously.  It is a response to feelings of being ignored and powerless.  I do not think this is how we should react to those feelings, but I want to point out that our culture creates that reaction.  See this post about masculinity, this post about school shootings, this post about Ferguson, Missouri.  All of these are examples of violent masculinity; that is violence means you are taken seriously and you are to be reckoned with.  The Huffington Post explains that here and Dr. King also talked about that nearly 50 years ago (from Time magazine):
“And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro...I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
To be clear, I want to state emphatically that I do not think that destroying property, setting fires, attacking police are helpful and justifiable ways to deal with the frustrations of the community in Baltimore or Ferguson or [you name it].  However, I understand the destruction in terms of the larger cultural forces that promote violence and feelings of helpless powerlessness.  I don't think that anyone should paint a broad brush over the black community any more than you would paint a broad brush over all cops everywhere.  It is just as ridiculous to say that all cops are corrupt or all cops engage in police brutality as it is to say that "all of those people need to simply follow the law" or all of those people need to raise their kids better".

The feeling of disrespect and not being taken seriously is embedded in a long history, see this article tracing that.

Why don't they protest when the crime is black on black?
They do!  This is just a ridiculous meme that gets recycled by people who don't live in the communities where the violence is occurring.  As the meme goes, "Where are the protests over crime within the black community?"  The protests are there, but you won't read about it in mainstream media:
Here's an article addressing it:

A quick google search turns up loads of hits about protesting the violence:

DNAinfo documents a number of local protests in Chicago against violence.

A Chicago Public School student protests the violence:

A rapper protests the violence:

An NBA player protests the violence:

Civic Leaders protest the violence:

Chicagoans who grew up in the violence risk their lives to fight the violence:

An NGO protests the violence

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