Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Star-Advertiser covers Baltimore riots as “bad black men” stories

Following Ferguson, this marks the second time in six months the National Guard has been called to restore order after police brutality protests. This time, protests erupted in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was first arrested for making eye contact with a lieutenant and then running away.—Democracy Now

by Larry Geller

There’s very little good to say about the Star-Advertiser’s coverage of the police violence that has galvanized demonstrations across the country since last August. Today they omitted the real news and gave us a story of black people rioting and burning. That, to the S-A editors, is the news you need to read. It is news, but very selectively reported, and an act of journalistic violence, if there is such a thing, itself.

Since Ferguson, demonstrations have spread to many cities in reaction to police violence against black men and boys (and less commonly similar violence against black women, but that’s another story). Highways, bridges and tunnels have been blocked by demonstrators no longer content to let the public ignore their issues.

People took to the streets to send a message that police violence is not ok, and that it shall no longer be ignored. The demonstrations put the issue of police brutality, police lies, and police coverups right in our faces. That is, unless you read the news only in the Star-Advertiser, in which case you know nothing of all of that.

Freddie Gray

Yes, Freddie Gray was arrested because he made eye contact with a police lieutenant and then ran away. That was his “crime.” Something like “making eye contact while Black.” This would have been a good place to start a news article, it was the crime that should have been reported first.

This is Gray family attorney Billy Murphy [speaking at Gray’s funeral].

    WILLIAM MURPHY: You know, most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray, but we’re all here because we know lots of Freddie Grays. Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras. Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall, and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.

[Democracy Now, National Guard Deployed as Baltimore Erupts After Years of Police Violence, Economic Neglect, 4/28/2015]

The missing national context

Because the Star-Advertiser has not covered the ongoing nationwide protests against police violence and militarization, there was no context for the violence that erupted in Baltimore.

To read the articles in the Star-Advertiser today or Sunday, you’d get the impression that it is the violence by predominantly black protesters that is the news  (on Monday the S-A just skipped its p. A3 news page entirely in favor of a full-page ad on that page). The stories today were truncated in comparison with similar versions of the same stories available on-line, and lacked important local context. All the reader was left with is that black people are rioting again.

It was the August killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson that ignited broad reaction to police brutality in a number of cities. Screenshot_2015-02-28-20-00-25The incidents of black men and boys killed by police continued. If they were reported, they were reported by the S-A as isolated incidents.

Yes, the S-A appears to contract out the national and international news section, but they have additional pages as well available to them. They didn’t use them. The omission, when compared with extensive on-line and social media coverage of these demonstrations, is glaring and cannot be accidental.

The editors do not live on an island, so to speak. News is their business and they could not have not known what they were omitting.

The violence in Baltimore has been extensive. By and large, the protests across the country have been peaceful. And the newspaper has ignored them. Almost all of them were non-violent with a couple of exceptions which made them notable.

Police have not changed their ways

Killed because the man made eye contact? Choked to death in Staten Island? What is wrong with policing that it doesn’t even see what is going on across the country and change its ways? That is important context that was also missing.

Police are rarely held accountable for their acts. Without bystander cell phone video, it would be close to never. Even with the video, prosecutors have declined to prosecute. Grand juries have been set up by prosecutors and fail to indict. Police cover for the misdeeds and crimes of their colleagues. Is this not news?

As to rioting, in Ferguson it turned out that the city is financed by police actions resulting in fines against black men. In fact, the police were engaged in racial economic violence against the black citizens of that city. It’s not surprising that ultimately the public reacted, and this and similar situations across the country contributed to the Baltimore riots.

The Justice Department's report details how Ferguson operated a vertically integrated system -- from street cop to court clerk to judge to city administration to city council -- to raise revenue for the city budget through increased ticketing and fining.

Ferguson's budget increases were so sizable that city officials exhorted police and court staff to levy more and more fines and tickets against violators, who turned out to be largely African-American, the Justice Department said.

The demands for revenue were so intense that the police department had "little concern with how officers do this," even disciplining officers who failed to issue an average of 28 tickets a month, the Justice Department report said.

Officers competed "to see who could issue the largest number of citations during a single stop," the Justice Department said.

One apparent winner was an officer who issued 14 tickets at a single encounter, according to the federal investigation report.

Many police stops of civilians "have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law," the report said.

[CNN, Policing for profit: How Ferguson's fines violated rights of African-Americans, 3/6/2015]

The missing local context in Baltimore

Freddy Gray died of an 80% severed spinal cord. That was his punishment for eye contact. Ultimately, there will be a report. But Baltimore citizens have a name for what probably befell Gray: a police torture tactic known there as a “Nickel Ride.” Here is one description out of many available on the Web the day the S-A chose to run a full-page ad instead of news:

According to police, Gray was first stopped and arrested by officers at 8:39am on April 12 and was thrown in the back of a police van 15 minutes later. An entire hour later an ambulance was called to give him medical care, but he sadly fell into a coma died soon after. He suffered broken vertebra and an injured voice box, which required emergency spinal surgery that he never recovered from.

Many suspect that Gray was the victim of a “Nickel Ride”, a horrific police torture tactic where a suspect is handcuffed and placed in the back of a police van without restraints, and driven recklessly around town by police officers. This practice has also been called a “Rough Ride” or a “Cowboy Ride.”

“We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon, as he should have been. No excuses for that, period,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Friday. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”

[freethoughtproject, Freddie Gray’s Death Reveals A Dark History Of “Nickel Rides” And Police Van Torture, 4/27/2015]

What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.

[The Atlantic, The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore, 4/22/2015]

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil Undue Forcerights 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. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

[Baltimore Sun, Undue Force, 9/28/2014]

Mainsteam media oblivious – even Baltimore local media

All night, local newsroom anchors peppered on-the-scene reports, most of which focused on the looting and burning, with personal commentary. I heard a lot of They're destroying their own community and We're better than this, Baltimore. At one point, WBAL anchor Donna Hamilton intoned, over footage of people running into and out of the CVS, "Freddie Gray's family asked for no protesting today. Obviously no one out there right now cares about Freddie Gray." Hamilton didn’t seem to understand that the rage we were witnessing was a response to years and years of deep concern for young black Baltimore residents, who’d routinely been brutalized by police under questionable, unaccountable circumstances, just like Freddie Gray.

[The Nation, Dispatch From Baltimore: Praying for Peace, Living Another Reality, 4/28/2015]

The local context is a reflection of national conditions

Rioting, looting and burning cannot ever be supported, but the roots of public reaction could be examined to learn what could cause a protest to become violent. Of course, the mainstream media do not want to focus on institutional violence. It’s easier to report on black people looting and leave it there.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, what happened last night was very disturbing. It was a expression of hopelessness and self-destructive violence, which diverts attention away from the real issues. For example, Fred Gray was the 111th [inaudible] killed by a policeman since 2011—one-one-one, not just the first one. Secondly, in that same area, unemployment is 30 percent. There are 18,000 vacant homes or abandoned lots, because government—because banks ran subprime lending and predatory lending on people. The banks got bailed out; the people got left out. So the abounding poverty, because you have the most people in that area who have been to prison who come out and can’t vote and then can’t get the job because they’ve been to prison. So you have—you really have this oasis of poverty and pain, and you must, beside last night, address the structural crisis in Baltimore and urban America, period.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I think such language [in reaction to Mayor Hogan’s denunciation of the violence] does not aid the situation. For example, those people, those bankers who engaged in subprime and predatory lending and took people’s homes and drove them out of the middle class into poverty, what is their name? Or 111 killings in three years in one area, what do you call those who did the killing, when there was no camera? When you look at 30 percent unemployment, TIF money spent downtown for the big new Baltimore, and pension money and banking money.

[Democracy Now]

Today’s Democracy Now will be on `Olelo tonight and repeated tomorrow morning, or go to democracynow.org. There is a full transcript on the website if you’d rather skim than listen. And there’s more context than any newspaper with space limitations can give. I’ll close with this bit of encouragement:

AMY GOODMAN: Baltimore Orioles chief operating officer John Angelos, who is the son of the owner, Peter Angelos, took to Twitter this weekend to defend the Baltimore protests after they were attacked on local sports radio. He wrote, quote, "my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state."

[Democracy Now]

Related: Police in the U.S. Shot and Killed 115 People in the Month of March Alone (News Mic, 4/3/2015)



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