Sunday, November 29, 2015

Colored Coverage on Black Friday

Colored Coverage on Black Friday: Why Don’t Those Black Lives Matter?

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One of the most common, and seemingly virtuous, criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement is that, while the movement professes care and concern for the black community, and for young, black men in particular, it is silent on the subject of black-on-black violence in our inner cities, where there are far more incidents of black men dying, than are dying at the hands of the police. More succinctly, if the BLM movement really cared about black lives, it would be more focused on where most of them are killed. From this point of view, then, the BLM movement is inherently hypocritical, as it preaches fairness and justice for all black lives, while ignoring the plight of the vast majority of them. If you’ve heard this criticism before, it’s no accident, as the messaging has been flooding conservative airwaves for months now. In fact, when it comes to BLM, conservative outlets like Fox News talk of nothing else, even evoking the narrative of clownish and ill-informed presidential candidates like Ben Carson.

In context, I write this essay on Black Friday (November 27th, 2015), a day in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the PUSH Coalition are marching in downtown Chicago to protest law enforcement handling of the Laquan McDonald case, where officer Jerry Van dyke, an officer charged with multiple, prior incidents of racial insensitivity, shot and killed a black man 16 times, using excessive force (by any definition of the term) and against de-escalation protocols for officers engaged in confrontations with citizens acting erratically, holding a knife, but not posing a direct and immediate physical threat to the officer. As just the most recent example of mistreatment of poor black males at the hands of law enforcement, Jesse’s coalition marched to promote racial justness in justice.

On this same day, the Chicago police held a press conference to announce the arrest of Corey Morgan, for the gang-related shooting of Tyshawn Lee, an 8 year-old black boy, targeted for assassination in a heinous and obviously immoral act of apparent gang-related revenge violence.

Cue the cries of “hypocrisy” toward the Black Lives Matter movement. Where are the protestors now?

Although it may be presumptuous of me to respond to a question set that is just beginning to embed itself into the fabric of conservative white American thinking, allow me to provide some answers to the question that is surely being generated by the narrow worldview of Fox News and their ilk, as the focal point of the conversation that we should be having:  

Question Set: Well, where is Jesse Jackson now? Why isn’t Jesse and the PUSH Coalition as incensed by the death of this little black boy at the hands of gang members, as by the death of a drug addicted psycho wielding a knife against the police? Why aren’t the BLM protestors out marching on the streets of Chicago today, as outraged by the death of an innocent 8 year-old black boy as by the death of a known criminal? Why are they against law enforcement but not against violence on their own streets? Why don’t they care about their own communities?

This question set surrounds a narrative that has been generated to draw a profile of an entire group of black Americans, if not all of them, characterizing the entire problem as a lack of character. The narrative is provocative, alarmist, racist, and intentionally misleading (source: Media Matters).

So let me offer some answers to this misguided question set in an effort to draw a different profile, and to provoke a different set of more meaningful questions, for your consideration.

Answer 1:  The protest today was about equal justice for African-Americans in our criminal justice system. It was not about gun violence on our city streets, or about black-on-black violence, or violence in general. Although these are important and worthy talking points, this demonstration today was about ongoing, historical, and systemic racism in our criminal justice system.  

Let’s turn it around and frame it in the same way, using the same reasoning, and ask these questions:
Are you offended by the fact that the National Rifle Association (NRA) does nothing to address homelessness? Why is the NRA so silent on climate change? Women’s rights? Are you as indignant about the failure of the NRA to engage in these more worthy issues as you are that Black Lives Matter has more to say about justice than about violence?

There is a valid line of reasoning that argues that all American should come together to address the root issues causing poverty, violence and despair in society, and that disproportionate black-on-black violence is one of the core issues that creates disproportionate contact between young, urban black males and the police and, thus, disproportionate numbers of the black community being brutalized and killed by police. But Black Lives Matter is a movement focused on racial equality in justice, not gun violence, just as the NRA is an organization devoted to gun rights, not poverty. Sure, gun violence is more common among the poor, but the mission of the NRA is primarily to protect the rights of gun owners, so they shouldn’t be expected to speak out for the rights of the homeless, even if the issues are arguably intertwined.

One might conclude (wrongly) that a movement called Black Lives Matter, would focus on the entire scope of issues that affect black lives, in the same way that we might conclude that Americans for Prosperity fights for all Americans seeking prosperity. But in both cases, these organizations have more particular focal points - on racial inequality in justice, and on advancing the interest of the top 1% of earners (billionaires), respectively.

Answer 2:  The black community (*) does care about all forms of violence against their young, black men, and about disproportionate black-on-black violence, and there is a LOT going on within the black community, particularly on a local level, to address street violence.

The other narrative being advanced by the conservative right is the story that violence in our inner cities is the result of inaction among the community most affected by it, and that this inaction is the result of trait deficiencies among the black community at large. It is a failure of will to address violence in their communities. The message to black America is clear: Get your shit together.

But here is a prime example of the orchestrated disinformation campaign brought by conservative media outlets, aimed squarely at the wrong target, in an effort to distort the truth, because the fact of the matter is that there are literally hundreds of organizations involved in reducing violence, organized at the grassroots level by members of these very same communities, just in Chicago alone (just Google “Chicago organizations against violence” for that lengthy list).

One of those organizations is Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, who were lambasted in conservative media for being off point and entirely irrelevant to the core issues that need to be addressed by the black community. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, whose mission is to, “protect, defend, and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields, and to promote peace and justice around the world,” are regularly portrayed as Jesse Jackson’s ultra-liberal, radical assembly of race-mongers whose main purpose is to divide the country along racial fault lines in an effort to strip hard working Americans of their wealth and status and, no doubt, to institute reparations for blacks on a massive scale.

As one of the more formidable human rights and social justice advocacy groups in this country, is there merit to this charge by conservative media of irrelevancy? After all, shouldn’t we expect that a group like the Rainbow PUSH coalition devote at least some of their resources to other issues, especially issues that the BLM movement is already covering?

And in fact they do. Outside the narrowly focused lens of scrutiny they receive from conservative media like Fox News, Jesse Jackson’s coalition has been heavily invested in a whole array of social issues, ranging from poverty and hunger, peace and justice, gun violence, home foreclosure, voter inclusion and voter registration. You can hear his actual views on BLM, black-on-black violence, his coalition’s real agenda, and the media’s treatment of these issues here.

With such an ability to control the conservative narrative, it should come as no surprise that what you didn’t learn on Fox News, was this recent alliance formed between gun control advocates and BLM, to address the intersection of black lives and disproportionate police contact. Or maybe you missed the story about BLM fighting for 1st Amendment rights in politics in Los Angeles? Perhaps you also missed the story of how the BLM movement has successfully altered the national conversation on race, toward more acceptance of, and outrage against, racial injustices in our criminal justice system? Maybe you missed in because your chosen media would rather promote fear (“if it bleeds, it leads”), such as the highly skewed coverage of the small minority of violent BLM protestors, as opposed to more truthful storytelling of the BLM movement, which has been predominantly peaceful, diverse, educated, and multi-faceted in its tactics.

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As an ironic aside, the other major news story of the day was of an active shooter on the site of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in which yet another angst-ridden white man shot up yet another public space (this time an abortion clinic), killing five people, including one police officer. If the killer’s profile – a white male - sounds familiar, it should. Yet, as of this writing, there was no mention in the media of the need to address the problem of white male violence (white males account for about 70% of all violent crime in America), or white-on-white violence (84% of whites are killed by other whites) in response to this incident.  

The Black Lives Matter movement should not be expected to address every single issue affecting the black community, nor more than the NRA should be expected to address every single issue affecting gun owners. More importantly, the BLM movement should not be constantly berated, belittled, and bedazzled by right-wing media for ignoring issues lying farther afield from its focus on racial injustice in the criminal justice system, especially when they are, in fact, involved in coalition efforts to address these issues as well.

Perhaps the better question is: Why didn’t you know about it?

You can check out Black Lives Matter for yourself, and form your own opinion. But as you ruminate, make sure the questions you ask yourself are the right ones – and not just a pre-packaged question set shoved down your throat by politically-conservative, corporate media.

Kenneth H. Laundra, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology
Co-Chair, Dept. of Sociology and Organizational Leadership
Millikin University


*the “black community” is a term deserving of a separate line of discussion but not within the scope of this article.