The Phenomenon of a Co-Opted Media

I realized this morning as I watched Matt Lauer of the TODAY Show interview GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, more than ever, that the media has been co-opted by the powers that be.

In spite of the horrific phenomenon called mass incarceration, in spite of blatantly racist voter suppression movements in Southern states, in spite of problematic policing that is resulting in way too many black people dying at the hands of police, Lauer didn’t ask Trump a single question about any of it.

I was disappointed. Journalism is supposed to be a profession that looks for and exposes truth. It is supposed to give listeners, viewers and readers a comprehensive, inclusive and honest picture of the world. Instead, “we the people” get what the powers that be want us to get.

Yes, I know that the media have covered the disturbances following questionable deaths at the hands of police. And yes, the media covered the disturbances (some call them riots) in Ferguson and in Baltimore …but that was largely self-serving, because so many people want to see black people looting and fighting because it feeds into their perception that black people are bad and that if black people are dying at the hands of police, they must have done something to deserve it.

But there has been little mention of what is going on in Alabama, as white officials are closing 31 driver’s license offices in Alabama in counties that are primarily black, even as the state has announced that driver’s licenses (the most popular form of picture ID) will be required in order for people to vote in upcoming elections. (http://whnt.com/2015/09/30/alea-announces-driver-license-office-closures-includes-two-in-north-alabama/) There has been some mention, but not much, about mass incarceration, in spite of the fact that this nation incarcerates more people than any other modern nation.

There was little to no coverage on major network and cable stations on the anniversary of the Million Man March, where literally hundreds of thousands of black people, largely men, gathered, with no violence, nothing but a hunger to be in a place to learn how their lives and the conditions in their communities could be made better. Yes, Minister Farrakhan spoke, and though I respect him, I found his some of his comments to be sexist and problematic on several levels, but to not cover that mass gathering of black people was a travesty of journalism.

The questions posed to Trump included immigration and the Second Amendment. Mr. Trump, without providing a single detail, continued to give his pat answers, about how he will make America great again, about how he will build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants from piling into this nation, and make Mexico pay for it, about how we need to honor the Second Amendment – all issues that are issues for swaths of white, Conservative voters for the most part, but not entirely. Matt Lauer pushed some, but could not, or did not, get past Trump’s pat, non-specific answers …and the people in New Hampshire in the audience seemed giddy with approval.

Charles Marsh wrote in his book, God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, that America was then a closed society. He wrote, “People spoke, without blushing, of “Christian” morals – values, families, clubs and society – even of Christian fun and wholesomeness.” The closed society had taken the divine into its own possession; it had brought God under its nervous management.” (p. 146)  He also wrote that white Christians were too often silent on social issues and was “hostile to the Gospel, indeed to Christ himself.” (p. 139) White Christians believed and acted within their belief that church policies were in line with “God’s design for separate races.” (p. 138), and spoke of the “theological bankruptcy of white moderate Christianity. (p. 137) Whites were socialized, writes Marsh, to be “insensitive to black suffering.” (p. 131) More important, he wrote of the conditions in the 60s, (and I would say, even now), was the preservation and continuation of the white way of life, God notwithstanding.

I could not help but go back to Marsh’s words as I listened to the interview of Mr. Trump this morning, Neither he nor any of those people eating pancakes seemed to care an iota about the suffering the black, brown and poor people of this nation are going through. There was not an iota of parents who are crying, schools that are grossly inferior, voting laws that are being pulled back in ways that will again keep black people from voting, nor the mass incarceration which is a trademark of these United States.

The media failed this morning.

A candid observation …

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America Is Not Safe

I have waited to write anything as I have watched the developments in the story of the horrific shooting in Oregon because I had to think.

I had to think, to wonder, what is going on in America, and what I came up with is that America is not safe anymore.

I had been thinking that for a while. I am no longer comfortable going into movie theaters or any public venues, really. When I drive I am really conscious of using my turn signal and watching my speed — which I always did, but with more intentionality now. I think of Sandra Bland, now dead, after she was arrested for <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/21/us/texas-sandra-bland-arrest/&#8221; target=”_hplink”>allegedly not using her turn signal</a>. I think of saying things, writing things, to let people know that if I end up dead in someone’s jail cell, that I did not kill myself. I take time to pay attention to the things I warned my son to take note of when he began driving, because I was afraid for him as a black man in America, a young, brilliant, handsome black man in America whose life is never safe here.

America is not safe — not because of international terrorism or ISIS, although ISIS as a force exists. America is not safe — not because of black on black crime. Yes, we in the black community need to be concerned with the destruction of black lives wherever and however it happens, including in our own communities. The one thing GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson said that I agree with is that all black lives matter. There is no doubting that the destruction of black lives occurs in black communities.

But that is not why America is not safe. Black people for the most part do not target and kill white people. Black people, most often go after other black people. Back on black crime is not the reason America is not safe. America is not safe because of white on white crime, because of this tendency of mostly young white men, angry with the world, or angry at their circumstances, and definitely angry at the government, think the way to handle their anger is to go into public spaces and just shoot, or kill masses of people in whatever way they can.

I remember thinking how unsafe America was when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was angry at them for targeting a building with innocent people — including babies — inside. It’s OK to be angry with the government; that is part of being a citizen in a country, but to just bomb a public space, or to just go into a public space and begin randomly shooting, is a punk way to handle the anger. It is a punk way and it is despicable and it is cowardly.

The coverage of the shooting in Oregon has rung hollow for me. Our politicians are more concerned with holding onto an illogical insistence that “common sense gun laws” will keep people from owning guns. Pro-gun advocates insist that more people having guns will reduce gun violence and deaths from gun violence. It is insane and illogical reasoning, borne out of a stubborn resistance to “big government.

The sheriff of Douglas County, John Hanlin, does not believe there should be any kind of gun control and even suggested that in the Sandy Hook situation, where 20 <em>children</em> were left dead, might be a conspiracy. He posted a piece on YouTube after that incident, saying that “there has been a lot of deception surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.” He suggested that the grieving parents might be “crisis actors.”

This, from a “law enforcement” officer.

There has been much talk about these young men, mostly white, who go into public spaces and gun people down. They are bad people, the experts say. They are mentally ill.

Perhaps. But the point has been made that people who are mentally ill are more likely to kill themselves than others for the most part. And, the case was made by President Obama, that in other modern countries there are just as many young men who are mentally ill, but we don’t hear about them gunning people down like they do here.

Attempts to explain the behavior of the mass shooters have relied as well on profiles, saying they are angry. Lots of people are angry. They don’t mow people down.

No, there’s something else going on. America’s culture is one of violence; the people from the Mayflower came into this new land mowing people down, specifically the Native Americans who were already here. We are a violent society. One of our core American beliefs is that the way to handle anger and to acquire and keep control of others is by and with violence. Cowboys were violent. Those who settled the West were violent. The debate over slavery was handled with a horror called the Civil War.

The answer, actually, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign of non-violence, was violence. White people actually said that his non-violent campaign was inspiring and forcing violence in return.

America, with its core value of violence, is not safe. These young men, staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, are good, wholesome American citizens, with American values.

That’s what’s scary, and it’s at least one reason why America is not safe.

Black Lives Don’t Matter to GOP

I watched the much-touted GOP presidential debate last evening with bated breath. Would these candidates indicate that they knew about and cared about the war around the value of black lives that is tearing this nation apart? Would they indicate that they care about African-Americans who are literally fighting for dignity and fairness in this land?

They did not. Not one question about the Black Lives Matter movement was asked; not one candidate admitted that what is going on in America is a serious problem.

Kim Davis and her quest for religious freedom was mentioned, and passionately so. Planned Parenthood was mentioned, with everyone seeming absolutely horrified that, according to a video that has surfaced, body parts of fetuses have been sold by Planned Parenthood. Of course, there was much discussion about the hated Iran deal, about what Russia is doing, about the nation’s security in general. That was expected and necessary.

But there was not a word, not a mention about the crisis going on in the streets of America, with innocent and unarmed black people being arrested, harassed, shot, injured, jailed and killed, by police officers. Not a word.

White America (and Dr. Carson) seems not to care about what is going on. White America is caught in its insistence that whatever happens to black people at the hands of police officers is warranted – that, in spite of plenty of videos to date that have indicated otherwise.

How come Rev. Mike Huckabee can be so concerned about what he calls “judicial tyranny” and not care about the domestic tyranny called police brutality? How can he, a Christian minister, ignore the fact that young black people are being treated like chattel, still, suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them? Why is the plight of one Kim Davis more heart-wrenching to him than is the plight of all these African-Americans who are being profiled and attacked by police …with little chance that the offending officers will be held to accountability for their actions?

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote that “the universe is so structured that things do not quite work out rightly if men are not diligent in their concern for others.” (“The Ethical Demands for Integration”) In 1962, he wrote that “it is sad that the moral dimension of integration has not been sounded by the leaders of government and the nation.” White people are adamant about there being “law and order,” and will insist, most of the time, that “the law” be obeyed. In the case of black lives, that means being quiet and acquiescing to the commands of police officers, be they in the right or not. Dr King wrote, in that same essay, “they sounded the note that has become the verse, chorus and refrain of the so-called calm and reasonable moderates: we must obey the law!  He said that the issue of national morality was before the leaders of that time. That same issue of national morality is before us now, but the GOP candidates are ignoring it.

Dr. King further wrote, in “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.” That urge is upon us now, GOP candidates. Whether you like the movement and action of the Black Lives Matter activists or not, the move is on to end the oppression which is and has always been wrought by the “justice system” in this land.  Dr. King wrote in that same letter, “The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out.”  That is what you are seeing, yet ignoring. The souls that are marching in the streets and lying down on highways are souls that are sick and tired of the anguish they carry around daily. They are tired of believing that there will be justice when law enforcement acts in criminal ways. Dr. King wrote that it is “immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.”

Whomever becomes president of the United States will need to look squarely in the face of Justice and know that she will require the soul of America to answer for its injustice to so many of her citizens. Just as society dared, really, President Obama to speak up too much for the case and causes of black people,  the Black Lives Matter movement will dare the new president ti ignore the cries of people who are tired of justice …being unjust.

It was insulting, last evening, to hear those candidates completely ignore the cries of people who are alive and fighting for freedom while they spoke for the lives of babies not yet born.

They showed that black lives don’t matter to the GOP.

A candid observation …

Desecration of Black Lives is Not a New Phenomenon

I read a piece in the New York Times where some white politicians offered stern rebuke for the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that “Dr. King would be appalled” at the fact that the color of people being disproportionately shot and killed by police officers is being lifted. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/opinion/the-truth-of-black-lives-matter.html?mwrsm=Facebook).

Their remarks show their arrogance, ignorance and complete lack of understanding about what this fight is about.

Black lives have never mattered to white America. From the time of slavery, black bodies were merely property, valuable only in their ability to make money for the ruling class, the landowners who needed them to plant, plow and harvest their fields.

The Civil War was about slavery; white people (in the North and the South) did not care about black people as human beings; in fact, the going belief was that black people were not fully human. Though some who need to hide from history say that the War Between the States was about states’ rights, the “right” that states were fighting for was the “right” to own and use black people as they needed and wanted.

The lack of respect for black lives was shown not only in the fact of slavery, but also in the fact that black slave women were raped at will by white men (though they lynched black men with abandon because they said it was black men raping white women that was the most serious social issue of the day.) Black lives mattered so little that whites made it a crime for blacks to learn to read and write; the most minimal time was allowed for black children to attend school. Black lives mattered so little that the schools they did have were substandard,with few to no books, or with old books, the worst teachers, and the fewest supplies any child needs to have a positive school experience.

Black lives mattered so little that black people were lynched by whites for even the hint of a supposed crime; black people were never tried by “juries of their peers,” but most often by white men. Black lives mattered so little that black people were beaten and/or killed for even trying to register to vote. Law enforcement didn’t protect black lives; law enforcement officers either ignored, participated in, or initiated much of the violence meted out to innocent black people.

When Dr. King arrived in Memphis for the last time he would speak, he went in support of black men who were sanitation workers and who were treated …as subhuman, not making enough money to live, and being subjected to all kinds of horrific treatment as they tried to do their work. Remember, they carried signs that said, “I am a man!”  They carried those signs with those words because they knew their lives were not important, nor were their needs or concerns. The black men, picking up the garbage for Memphis’ citizens, were treated horribly and wanted to unionize. The city balked. Taylor Branch wrote, in At Canaan’s Edge that things were bad. The situation came to a head when two men were crushed in a compressor truck. The horrific deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It seemed that their deaths brought home the reality that black lives really did not matter. Branch wrote that city policy “left the families of unclassified workers with no death or survivors’ benefits.” (p. 685) Thus, the families of these men, who had worked for pittance, were left with little to next to nothing after they died …working for the city. The mayor gave each family $500. That was it. The men got fed up, tired of hosting and supporting their own discrimination, and took to the streets. They had to stand up for themselves, and say that they were men, human beings …and that their lives mattered.

It is this historical maltreatment of black people that the Black Lives Matter movement is about. It is disingenuous and dishonest, in addition to being arrogant and ignorant, for these politicians to call on the name of Dr. King, who died as he marched in solidarity with the garbage workers in Memphis to say, “black lives matter” as justification for their disdain for the ongoing struggle for dignity and justice for white black people must still fight.

No, Gov. Huckabee, Gov. Barbour, Rand Paul, Republican Party …Dr. King would not be appalled. He fought for the cause of black lives …and the fight continues.

Don’t insult the work. Don’t continue the insult to black people who have suffered immeasurably at the hands of white people who do not think black lives matter.  Don’t speak of that about which you know so little, and seemingly, care so little.

Dr. King might be appalled at your lack of understanding of what this movement is all about.

A candid observation …

Before

Before Michael Brown, there were others.

Trayvon Martin, Roger Owensby. Timothy Thomas. Emmett Till. There were so many others.

The black community has been under assault by “law enforcement” for decades, and law enforcement has historically gotten away with it.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, of whom I am writing an authorized biography, when I asked him how black people are to cope, not just with the murders of unarmed black people, but the lack of justice, and therefore of respect and dignity, said that we have to realize our strength, and realize that white people know that what we as a people suffer is brutal. (my word, “brutal,” not his.) He said, “Most white people realize that they could not live as black people do. They realize they would not be able to handle it.”

I relate to what is going on, and to what has always gone on with sanction in this nation, as a mother of a son. I have a daughter, too, but it is my son that I worry about, just because he is a black male. He does not do drugs. He does not have a criminal record. He knows “how to act” if stopped by police.

But none of that matters.

And that’s what scares me. Black people do not have to have a criminal record or be doing something wrong in order to be gunned down with abandon …by police. White officers and black officers have the same obsession with power, it looks like. They do not like to be challenged or questioned…and they know they have the upper hand. They too often shoot first and ask questions (or make up a story) later. No matter how compelling is the evidence that they are in the wrong, they get off.

That is scary.

The nation, this nation, cannot be “exceptional” so long as such barbarity within the ranks of law enforcement exists, because the actions of those who are supposed to serve and protect are causing a huge swath of parents and loved ones to suffer emotional pain that is ignored and minimized.

Black people have lived on the hope, the faith, that God will make a way …out of this madness caused by the dehumanization of them and their children. But God has been slow. Black parents stand weeping on the banks of “Red Seas,” holding out a metaphorical “rod,” waiting for the sea of injustice to part, but the parting has not happened yet, not after all these years.

The parents and loved ones of all of these unarmed black people are standing on the shore of that sea, waiting for God.

But God has been slow. It feels like God has been absent, actually.

It is horrible that police officers have been randomly killed, but here’s the difference between slain police officers and slain black people. Whomever has killed a police officer will be brought to justice. Most police officers who kill unarmed and many times, innocent black people, even if charged with a crime, will go free. There will be no justice.

That reality is the fuel of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of justice speaks to the core belief of this nation that black people do not matter, and never have. The lack of justice undermines the words of the United States Constitution, which black people and those concerned with justice latch onto, “All men are created equal.”

Not so. It wasn’t the case when the Constitution was drafted and it isn’t the case now.

I wonder if any of people who are so quick to blame black people for our lot in life ever stop to think about the effects of being dehumanized. I wonder if they feel it when black mothers cry, when little black kids are put in handcuffs for doing things little kids of all races have always done …because they’re little. I wonder if white mothers feel the pain of the mothers of Trayvon and Michael and Jordan and Roger and TImothy and Renisha and Sandra and Freddie and Sam…and so many. So many…

Please understand. Parents and loved ones feel the pain when black lives are taken by other black people…but the difference is that black people who kill other black people are usually brought to justice and end up in prison. It is small consolation but at least it represents justice.

The cry that some are trying to vilify and call representative of hate is a cry that is filled with anguish about being used, exploited, and then being discarded. American society uses black people (and poor people) for cheap labor, exploits the, unwilling to give them decent wages so they can take care of their families, and then discarding them when they cry out for help as their loved ones are mowed down by state-sanctioned actions of law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement doesn’t care about black lives. The education system doesn’t care about black lives (schools for black children are the worst of all schools). America doesn’t care …about black lives.

Before Michael Brown there were others, so many others…

And we live in a nation that just does not care.

A candid observation