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Freddie Gray, the Riots, and the Media

The riots in Baltimore have been difficult to follow, let alone understand by standards of the news–labels and categories have already been given to the rioters, there hasn’t even been  a chance to understand what is happening. There has been so much focus on the actual violence, that the rioters are accused of perpetuating, that the big point of an innocent man’s life taken unjustly was totally lost. Through the news, I heard of the riots before I heard of Freddie Gray, this is by no means an accident.

Here is what we know so far by way of consistent media reports and social media posts: Freddie Gray was suspected of being involved in criminal activity, evidence yet to be made public,  leading to his arrest. Sounds routine–this is nothing new–suspects are typically arrested for further questioning for their involvement in crime. However, this particular incident (and the many others of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, etc.) was no routine incident. Video footage clearly of the arrest scene shows Freddie Gray being in such excruciating pain from the heavy handed police tactics he could not muster up the strength to walk. Instead two police officers were obliged to carry him away to a police van. He later died in police custody due to a spine injury. The police have claimed no use of excessive force of the 25 year old man who died in their custody a week later. Words will not do Freddie Gray or his circumstances justice here–as we sit and watch one Black man after another killed without recompense–we have to face the realities of our political and social climate and ask the question that every major outlet has missed: Do #BlackLivesMatter?

The media has not answered that question, in fact, they have completely ignored the circumstances that lead to riots following the deaths of innocent Black men, and have focused in concentrated efforts to ignore the questions of the historical and present reality of the fact that these particular lives, contrary to the grassroots movement of #BlackLivesMatter, do not matter. National media outlets have began with their smear and propaganda campaign with malicious attacks against ordinary people while protecting the ones who have perpetrated the crime of killing a 25 year old man without due process–and it calls for the condemnation and outcry of all people with a conscious for justice.

Last night, I happened by chance to see Fox News’ coverage of the Baltimore riots on TV. What I heard was not new for Fox News as an outlet–but morally reprehensible for me as a listener. Video footage of rioters and the aftermath was played; a burned church and senior center, mass armies of police ‘protecting’ the city I’m assuming, and so forth. As they did, the voiceover from the Fox News anchor asked what appeared to be an official from the city of Baltimore, “Who are these groups? They have been fighting each other. Are they gangs?the man simply responds, “I don’t know.” I cannot believe that the riots are being chalked up to gang activity while there was absolutely no discussion of the clearly suspicious death of Freddie Gray. However, this is nothing new for us as consumers of the media. We are not surprised and we do not expect any form of justice or compassion from the outlets, especially not the neoconservative and racist news outlet, Fox News.

Fox News unfortunately is not the exception. Other media outlets were more blatant in their smear. On  April 27, the New York Times published an article with the headline Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Looting.” The article is clearly outlining the dangerous situation in  Baltimore that promoted the National Guard to be enlisted to “fight” riots and looting. The article goes over the state of affairs and astonishingly, explains how Mr. Hogan, the governor, was urged by the president to have “law enforcement officers exercise restraint,” and while the governor agreed, he also responded with, “I assured him (the president) we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs.”

The intentions were made clear. There will be no dialogue. There will be no peace. There will be no justice. This is nothing short of a war for those on the receiving end of police brutality. It is clear that is what the governing system of Baltimore wants– to win the media battle and destroy the spirit of the ‘rioters’, protesters, marchers–whatever the bodies may be–but that is not the case.

Footage across social media from last night reports citizens urging their fellow angered citizens to obey curfew and go home. Footage from this morning, shows these same ‘thugs’ cleaning up the streets of Baltimore. There have been reports of ‘rioters’ showing peace, tranquility and even real gangs uniting over the injustice of Gray. In fact, of the many ‘rioters’, the majority aren’t even rioting. They are protesting, peacefully. They are holding marches. They are speaking with each other. They are protecting their city from the violence. They are doing exactly what the news outlet did not report: being nonviolent. In fact, “out of the more than 2,000 people who marched to City Hall that afternoon, Al-Jazeera America reports that about 100 were responsible for the chaos.” The false narrative of ‘rioters’ is important to note because it is telling of the message that the media is spreading; a message that no justice will be achieved for Freddie Gray, instead his supporters will also be condemned to criminal acts before justice.

Should these ‘rioters’, protesters, or simply ‘people of conscious,’ resort to violence, we are told not to  question the circumstances leading to those events. In fact, we should be well aware as we have been shown already by the recent deaths of innocent Black men, the rioters are not doing so without just cause or due right, in fact, arguably, this is a result of the circumstances of the pressure that both local governments across the US and the police have placed on the shoulders of the people.

“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…it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In a sad case of irony, this was the “first time the National Guard was called out to quell unrest in Baltimore since 1968, when some of the same neighborhoods burned after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” Not much has changed.

I cannot say that rioting is right. But I can say that the death of Freddie Gray is wrong. Regardless of the actions that lead to his arrest, there is no justification for a spinal injury, one so severe that within a week, he was dead at the hands of the police. Power should not be abused. With that power comes a responsibility to uphold the law and be just. Sayed Khamenei, has been quoted as saying, “…an important point in this regard is that showing power should not be confused with showing oppression. You should not confuse power with crossing boundaries and moving forward in an unbridled way. For example, in some countries–such as U.S.–the police is very powerful…but they kill the innocent. For example, they kill a person by shooting fifteen, sixteen bullets at him with the excuse that he wanted to draw a gun. This power is not an ideal power because it is accompanied by oppression. This is a kind of power which will not lead to security in the end. On the contrary, it will lead to insecurity. In fact, it is the main factor in creating insecurity.”

As a collective society concerned with the well being of it’s citizens, the United States of America as both governing bodies and bodies to be governed must start asking real questions, addressing very legitimate concerns of the minority communities, especially the African American community, and take the issues at hand seriously. We cannot condemn rioting without condemning the systems in place that have caused it. We cannot overlook the deaths of numerous Black men without asking what lead to those deaths. Why is it that data “shows that Black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than Whites”?

As consumers of the mainstream media, a bias tool that is used clearly for controlled content, we must stand up for the oppressed masses by contributing to a climate of change, dialogue, and acceptance. By critically judging our media intake and world paradigm as a result of that intake, we will begin the first steps of building a better world–one that will honor the slain at the hands of oppression, beginning with Freddie Gray.

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