Over the last few days your television screens, newspapers and social media feeds have been flooded with images of “the Baltimore riots”, courtesy of the mainstream media. The media wants you to believe that the black citizens of Baltimore are out of control and burning it to the ground; that is only a very small minority of a much larger peaceful movement. Sure, there have been riots in the city, but that behavior is the exception not the rule. Just like they didn’t show you the thousands of peaceful protests in cities across the country after Michael Brown died, after Eric Garner was killed, or after Walter Scott was murdered. But as soon as some frustrated couple teenagers burn a couple police cars and all of a sudden the race war is on!
What the media hasn’t been showing you is the thousands of people coming together and peacefully protesting police brutality. They didn’t show you 10,000 people, of all races, marching through the streets on Saturday seeking justice for Freddie Gray. You didn’t hear these peaceful protestors chanting “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray” and “The people united will never be defeated.” Instead, you were shown images and videos of a very small number of teenagers rioting.
Our government officials have tried to make this clear: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that 95 percent of the protestors were respectful and peaceful but a “small group of agitators intervened”, while President Obama said,”One burning building will be looped on television over and over again and the thousand of demonstrators who did it the right way have been lost in the discussion.”
That small group, only a hundred or so on Saturday, was what the media latched onto. Thousands of peaceful protestors were ignored and the focus turned to about one percent of the protestors there.
Not only did the media show that one percent, but they made it look like all of the looters and rioters were black; they weren’t. Citizens journalist in the streets of Baltimore have said that both blacks and whites participated in the bad behavior, so why isn’t the media telling you that?
It’s very simple: fear-mongering and race-baiting sells papers and boosts ratings. But on top of the ambulance-chasing aspect of sensationalist journalism, the propagation of racial fear by conservative news networks cements stereotypes and encourages discrimination against black Americans. The idea of the “savage black” is buried deep in the white American psyche, and focusing on the violence only dehumanizes and demeans the struggle and suffering of the African-American.
Last year we saw the same thing in Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed. Some kids took things too far and the media acted like it was WWIII in Missouri. Every single time the African-American community comes to together to protest systematic discrimination and racial injustice by police, the media finds the few troublemakers, among the thousands of peacekeepers, and directs their attention to them. They know that fear and racism sells.
In America, we would still rather pay attention to individuals “rioting” because they are angry over injustice, rather than deal with the systematic repression that are crippling our inner cities and limiting the human potential of our working families. Even when the media reported on the kids causing trouble they didn’t bother to mention that it was in the poorest neighborhood in Baltimore. It’s easy to watch what is going on in Baltimore and pretend that African-American kids are thugs because it lets us (white Americans like me) ignore a very uncomfortable truth: we haven’t changed very much in the last fifty years.
The media isn’t talking about cyclical poverty, outrageous incarceration rates, underfunded schools in the neglected neighborhoods a large portion of the African-American community are forced to live in. The media is talking about “thugs” instead of talking about the $5.7 million the city of Baltimore has paid in police brutality lawsuits.
All of that is being ignored and our media is outraged over a burning CVS. Ten thousand people peacefully marching for justice were ignored so the media could continue to spread fear of the black community. The media has allowed the actions of a few to completely drown out the larger message of peace. You should be outraged that you have been tricked by “journalists” into believing that Baltimore is burning, when it has been for decades.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.