Sometimes when things are really sad and hurtful, and the world feels like it’s crushed under the weight of its own injustices, it helps to focus on some humor.
It doesn’t help when the humor is coming from the news.
I’m talking, of course, about the coverage of the Baltimore riots and the shockingly violent and mysterious death of Freddie Gray.
Thursday morning, as I was punishing myself with a morning full of Fox News – like a routine blood letting of my sanity – I happened to catch a segment about the riots in Baltimore. This was, obviously, a mistake. Fox, like all news outlets, runs on a constant loop of “developing story” that allows for any and all inconsistencies, personal biases, and falsehoods to be thrown around irresponsibly in the name of “journalism.” Our media outlets operate like a three-year old’s brain (example: I AM A QUEEN BECAUSE CHEESE!), making everything a fact until it is later a different fact or no longer a fact at all. Unless it’s racist, then it is always fact.
In this particular segment, Bill Hemmer of America’s Newsroom (the one with the smug face… you know… that one), interviewed two women. Unfortunately, I did not catch their names. I can’t find the clip online either. But I can sum up for you what the casting department was probably thinking when they asked these two ladies to participate in the discussion: “black one” and “republican white lady.” I’m sure they realized that the one black woman would speak for all black people (as all individual black people who are asked questions are) and that the republican white woman would disagree with her. And I’m not saying this to diminish either one’s value, their input, or their knowledge. The women themselves were thoughtful – or as thoughtful as you can be when a national television organization is asking you to debate on the air. Actually, I’m making a mistake. The black woman was thoughtful. The white woman called him Freddie Green. But my point here is that Fox News knows what they’re doing. At face value they got a black woman and a white woman to talk about a complex racial issue and it looked nice on television screens.
During this discussion, Mr. Hemmer revealed that a new piece of information had been leaked. Remember, each fact is fact to these people. The report that came out THE NEXT DAY that each officer is being charged in reference to the determined homicide of Freddie Gray was not available on THAT day. On Thursday, all these people had to go on was that the police weren’t revealing their findings yet, but were revealing that there was another person in the car. And that other arrested individual, who did not see Freddie Gray, said he could hear Gray and it sure sounded like he was banging himself around in the van in order to sustain injuries to himself.
Isn’t that convenient.
The conversation, which isn’t worth really talking about because it wasn’t so much a conversation between invited guests as it was a host telling the guests what he thought instead (and the republican woman blaming it on the liberals), was pretty difficult to watch. Of course the host wanted to point out that the report that came out was just one source but that of right then, “we” were taking it as fact. As fact. That somehow, some witness who won’t give his name, who didn’t actually see Gray, thinks that maybe he heard intentional head banging.
Of course Freddie Gray broke his own spine.
Who hasn’t broken their spine when they needed to, just to really stick it to some cops who beat you up? It’s pretty much Streets101. I learned that in college. I took Streets101: an introductory course to thuggery. I got an A, which isn’t very “street” of me to do, now that I think about it.
Also, like all white women, I once broke my own spine trying to get out of a traffic ticket. I am really dedicated to avoiding prosecution of any kind.
On Friday, I went to the Fox News website to look for more information on what I had watched and instead was bombarded with two headlines that made me laugh. The first linked to an article about Michael Moore who, apparently, “ranted” about disarming the police. (Typical human rights behavior.) Next to this one, was a picture of George Bush with the quote, “live life to the fullest.” That George Bush. He gets me, you know? So original. So… thoughty.
This made me laugh though because – well – It’d be easy to live life to the fullest if… cops… stopped.. taking… lives.
Irony. The English language’s least understood writing tool.
And now, of course, we know that the ARREST was illegal. On Friday, just a day after Fox News “took as fact” the statement about Gray potentially hurting himself in the van, the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, revealed that the arrest was illegal, the knife Gray was carrying was not against the law, and that the death had been ruled a homicide. She filed charges ranging from assault to manslaughter against the six officers involved (including the driver of the van).
The witness who had been quoted in that Fox News segment released a statement saying that his words were twisted in the media. The way he was represented by organizations like Fox News was incorrect.
But this all okay because I AM QUEEN BECAUSE CHEESE and that’s how news works.
Can we all just take a fucking break for a second. Let’s take a collective breath. Everyone is so rowdy when it comes to people feeling things and having reactions. So people started rioting. I am a huge supporter of uprisings, maybe to a fault. I think that people who are constantly being backed into a corner should break the corner to pieces. I’m not for violence, I think peace works in ways violence can’t, if only because violence gives people the opportunity to say you don’t deserve a voice. But the way this has all been framed by the media is just shameful.
Freddie Gray was probably up to no good.
Freddie Gray had a knife.
Freddie Gray hurt himself.
Black people rioting in Baltimore.
Baltimore on fire.
Black mom beats son in street.
Thugs. Violence. Liberals.
Blame the school system.
Blame years of democratic leadership.
It’s the breakdown of the black family.
Where are all the black fathers?
I’m just going to sum it up for you real quick. There are a lot of problems. A lot of systematic issues. A lot of personal choices. You know why? Shit is complicated. The world is complicated. You can’t explain away issues in sound bites and quotes. Live life the fullest – as long as it’s how I say it should be.
Not all people in the streets are violent. In fact, all gang members of ALL rival gangs in Baltimore have called a truce. They are joining as ONE to support this fight for equality, for justice, for someone who was MURDERED. Do you understand? When you are looking at your TV screens and you’re screaming about thugs and violence and how people should “control themselves,” just realize that they ARE. And they have been. Many of the rioters are from out of town. Many are white. The first people to throw bricks were teenage kids and there are personal accounts of that being after the kids were surrounded by police on their way home from school. And most people are NOT rioting. But somehow… that just doesn’t make the news.
Is it impossible to look at anything with empathy anymore or are we always partisan? Do we always have to say the “democrat” or the “republican” thing when something like this happens? Why can’t we say, damn it, I feel for them.
As a white woman, I do not know what it is like to be black. But I can sit here and say that there is very little justice for the black community and I don’t like it.
I don’t like that Fox News can deliver a whole segment on whether or not the word “thug” is the new “n-word” and nobody is showing pictures of one peaceful protester surrounded by police officers in riot gear.
I don’t like that we look at victims of police brutality and we frame the conversation around, “well, he was probably up to no good….” This is a weird argument white people make. Whether they are for or against the protests, they still say, “well he was probably doing something wrong,” in order to placate the angry white people who think LAW equals RIGHT. I guess angry other people, too. I’m not white-hating, I’m just white-aware.
Why do we do that, though? The weird explain-the-victim-probably-did-wrong-but-maybe-shouldn’t-have-died thing? It allows the idea of his death to be just a little bit justified. Like, if he wasn’t doing this little thing wrong, then he wouldn’t have died at all, so the greatest burden of his death falls on his shoulders.
He was probably up to no good.
How the fuck would you know that, though? What if he wasn’t up to anything? What if he was just a kid with a toy gun? Or a little girl in Detroit, sleeping on the couch during a botched police raid? Or a mentally ill man, who’s mom asked for help from the police? Remember, being mentally ill is not a crime. (All of these things have happened. All of these stories are real. All of those people are dead.)
What if Freddie Gray was just walking down the street and, born and bred with a – seemingly realistic, given the circumstances – fear of police, saw some cops and ran? He did have priors on his record. He knows what happens when he sees police. But that doesn’t mean he was doing anything illegal. Why does the narrative “well he was probably doing something wrong” enter our discussion? The man is dead. Dead. For nothing. Even his “illegal” knife is legal. Even if he whipped out the knife and started taunting police, the guy died from a coma caused by a severed SPINE. How many times have you walked down the street with your prescription pills in a pill box and not the labeled container? That’s illegal. How many times have you left the house without identification? Illegal. How many times have you bought drugs? Illegal. (But your dealer delivers to you in special containers with stickers on them because you live in Williamsburg, so it’s totally not the same, right?) I know you have cocaine in your pocket when you step into my bar on Saturday nights. I know you aren’t going to be frisked because you’re rich. But you look at a poor black kid in Baltimore and say, “he shouldn’t have been doing that.”
I work as a social worker in the criminal justice system. I work with people like Freddie Gray. I work with people who are career criminals and I work with people who are trying desperately to make their lives right. Everyone has a story. Sometimes my clients are really just manipulative addicts. Sometimes when we talk about why they are in my program, we talk about personal responsibility. That’s a huge thing to think about – your own responsibility for your life, for where you end up. But let’s not pretend that Freddie Gray is at all responsible for his DEATH because he has a criminal record. Let’s not say that because he was walking down the street and ran from cops, his death is somehow justified because that’s just the life he was living. Personal responsibility goes both ways. You are no different than any criminal. You are no better. You live your life and you get away with your life. You also don’t deserve to die.
What you’re saying when you say, “he was probably up to no good” is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from “what was she wearing? I think she was asking for it.” You’re saying, it’s not right that Eric Garner is dead but if he hadn’t been selling illegal cigarettes on the street none of this would have happened. You can do that with a kid who gets hurt running by the pool. You told the kid to stop running or she would slip and fall and she slips and falls you say, see? I told you so. You don’t “I told you so” to a dead body.
Unless Freddie Gray was standing over a body, blood dripping from his legal knife, dead children and dead kittens surrounding him, and he was charging, hand outstretched towards police officers, maybe I can understand severing his spine in the name of self defense. But if you are trained at all, I’m sure you can think of another way of subduing someone. That’s your job. If you can’t do it, who can?
I get that police officers have to protect themselves and they are trained to shoot to kill, if at all threatened. They are not trained to subdue. And that works sometimes. Today, two gunmen tried to enter an event in Texas with assault rifles and body armor. They died and no one else did. Am I glad they are dead? No. Am I glad they were stopped? Absolutely.
Today, NYPD officer Brian Moore died after sustaining a shot to the face over the weekend. It’s a tragedy. He did not deserve to die. Police officers need to be trained to protect themselves.But asking for accountability from the police force as a whole, the entire country over, is not akin to condoning the shooting deaths of cops. Officer Brian Moore should not be dead. Freddie Gray should not be dead.
I’m sorry if having both of those viewpoints means I’ve evolved past the thinking capacity of a fish, but somehow I’ve managed. Let’s all get there.