Monday, May 4, 2015

Reactions to Baltimore reflect political polarization of America

By Jim Keyworth

Gazette Blog Editor

How naïve I was to think the recent events in Baltimore might produce at least a ray of hope that Americans of all stripes would realize that racism (and what it does to our inner cities) and excesses by police are very real issues that need to be addressed.

I admit that I have been somewhat insulated the last two weeks.  With my wife out of town and a semester of teaching (and grading) winding down, my contact with the outside world has pretty much been limited to playing basketball with a few friends, workouts at the gym, and solitary meals watching non-stop coverage of Baltimore on MSNBC.

Yes, MSNBC.  I can hear my right wing friends howling now.  But I say to you in all sincerity as a professional journalist that I have yet to see MSNBC present information that is not based in fact.  I can’t say the same for FOX News.  (I also avidly read the slightly-to-the-right Arizona Republic/USA Today combo newspaper and online sources of all manner of persuasion.)

Over the last two weeks I have come to better understand the plight of black people trapped in a cycle they can’t escape, in no small part because gross income inequality is hitting them harder than anybody else.  But I have also been encouraged by good people in Baltimore who literally brought out brooms to clean up after the violence and show us that not all black people are “thugs” – that there is good and bad in all of us, regardless of race, color or creed.

And I was thrilled to watch State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, a 35-year-old black woman, show the wisdom and courage to file charges against the six police officers (3 black and 3 white) who her office determined were responsible for the death of Freddie Gray (whose spine was nearly severed while in police custody).  She was, it seemed to me, a much-needed breath of fresh air.

But then, last night, I attended a large social event here in Payson, AZ.  Had my wife been there, maybe the conversation wouldn’t have taken the turn that it did.  Had I to do it over again, maybe I wouldn’t have gone there myself.  But she wasn’t and I did.

And in a few minutes, my naivete came crashing down.  Because I learned that Freddie Gray was not falsely arrested for carrying a legal pocket knife.  I learned that Freddie Gray was a “known drug dealer” who had recently had “major back surgery” and was told by his doctor not to “go out.”  I was told that he had no right to run from police who had stopped him illegally.  And finally, I was told that Marilyn Mosby is “in big trouble” for her actions.

The conversation escalated and turned ugly and I left the event.  Once home, I did an internet search to investigate these allegations I had heard and read nothing about in the media during the previous two weeks.  Not on MSNBC.  Not in the Republic/USA Today.  Not anywhere.  Turns out the back surgery story is completely bogus.  Bullshit.  I don’t know a better way to put it.

The known drug dealer?  Well, Freddie Gray did have a bit of a drug history.  But the only drug I could find mentioned by name was marijuana.  And most of the incidents were dismissed by the courts.  I don’t think that qualifies him as a “known drug dealer.”

Hell, I could be labeled a known drug dealer too based on the days when I occasionally used and shared marijuana back when it was considered an illegal drug.  But then again, I’m white.

And that brings us to Mosby being in “big trouble.”  What I was told at the gathering was that she has a conflict of interest because her husband is one of 18 members of the Baltimore City Council, and because Gray’s lawyer contributed to her campaign (as did the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police).

Seems pretty minimal to me, but that will all play out in the months ahead.  In the meantime, here’s what David Zurawik, media critic for the Baltimore Sun, had to say about Mosby: 

“Two minutes into her press conference, you knew that this official had done her homework and wasn't speaking blah-blah-blah, platitude-sloppy, media-bromide talk like so many elected and appointed officials here have been doing this week.

“She talked with the kind of force and precision a legal education is supposed to impart. But it was so unlike the ideologically charged, purely speculative, sometimes foolish talk I heard from so many lawyers on cable TV and the streets of Baltimore this week.

“Mosby projected focus, strength, determination, righteousness and resolve. I'm not saying she is all of those things -- I have no way of knowing.

“But that's what came through on the tube. And all of those telegenic attributes enhanced the power of the findings she announced, charging six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.”

I guess what bothers me is the polarization that I witnessed last night.  The rush to judgment.  Freddie Gray is black.  Marilyn Mosby is black.  We all know what that means.  Wink.  Wink.

Except we don’t.  None of us knows.  And not many whites have a clue what it means to be a black male in America today.

It was a restless, troubled night, but I awoke Sunday morning to an editorial by the Republic’s Linda Valdez.  Yes, the name is Hispanic but she looks very white in her picture.  Anyway, the article was headlined: “We must not ignore Baltimore’s cries.”  She concluded:

“Those of us who are comfortable should resist the urge to see ourselves and our neighborhoods as so very different from the people who live in places that boil with anger after years of injustice.

“If cops and the justice system are not required to act like squeaky clean servants to all the people, we, the comfortable, may find out the hard way that we are no longer so very different or so very comfortable.”

If that doesn’t bring it home, I don’t know what will.  But I’m not optimistic anymore.


Anonymous said...

"gross income inequality is hitting them harder than anybody else"

That's a 'gross' misstatement - go to the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota and you will see third world conditions.

And what about all the police brutality and abuses that whites and brown skinned people endure?
At 60 years of age, I've known plenty of white folk abused by their local PD, but does that ever make headline news? And what about the racist bludgeoning of white people by black people that NEVER make sensational headline news?

Seems to me the media is biased and is reporting abuses perpetrated on only one race and not all the others.

Quite frankly, I'm tired of hearing about black people being 'victims' - for God's sake - we've got a black president, black senators, black congressmen, black lawyers, black doctors, black school teachers, businesses owned by black people ... holidays celebrating black people, streets named after black people in every major city across the U.S., ..... what's it going to take for the black man to get off their self-pity party?

The past is the past, and no one can do anything to change it, and the nonsense of black people living as perpetual victims because of the past has got to end .... for their own sake, for anyone who lives with such a 'victim' mentality will never free themselves to be all they can be.

Sorry, but the 'poor black victim' mantra is old and outdated .... and worn out. The only thing holding them back from realizing their dreams is themselves - how they perceive themselves, how they conduct themselves, the choices they make.

You want to know which is the most victimized and economically disadvantaged race in the US? It's Native Americans - they've been categorized as 'savage', tortured, slaughtered, massacred, raped, poisoned, every treaty broken by the US government, millions, if not billions of dollars that's legally theirs withheld and/or embezzled, routed off their land (and sometimes routed off again), given the worst pieces of land to live on, only to have that land confiscated again because of the minerals discovered, their children taken away and raped and/or murdered.... they've been lied to, lied about, their kindnesses returned with grotesque barbarianism ..... and believe it or not, much of what I just described is not just distant past history, but has been going on in the U.S. and Canada within our lifetimes. And for all the shit they've been through, First Nations people don't have a holiday for them, don't have streets named after them in every major city, don't have the shit that happens to them plastered across every media outlet in the nation.

So the next time you hear anyone who's not Native American complaining, just tell them what I tell them ..... "you got nothing to complain about 'cause there's always someone worse off than you. So stop your whining, pull up your bootstraps, and get a life."

Lesley Bradley said...

Well said Jim... And the word journalist is used on most of the news media that are not journalists. They do not show both sides and fairly fact check. Thank you for still being there. Reading and studying.. Okay.. Now I will get off my soapbox..