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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Silence of “we the people” is deadly

“We the people” absolutely cannot be silent and be unaware of what is going on around us.

When I was young, living in Detroit, I and my friends were told how to survive “out there.” We were never to be unaware; we were never to be so trusting that we didn’t, at all times, inspect our surroundings before we got out of our cars. We were never to appear to be sitting ducks. We had to be aware.

“We the people” are too often “unaware,” and it costs us.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police Chief who spent three years in jail for tax evasion, was appalled by what he saw while in prison. One of the things that he said in an interview with Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” was that “if people knew what was going on, they’d be angry. They’d want to change things.”

I read tonight a story about three young African-American youth – males – who were arrested as they waited for a school bus that was to take them to a scrimmage. Police officers showed up and told them to move. They politely declined, explaining that they were waiting for a school bus. According to the story, they were asked to disperse – to go home – several times, and when they refused, they were arrested!

When their coach showed up moments later, and saw three of his players in handcuffs, he asked officers what was going on. The officers said that the young men had been arrested because they had refused to go home, as had been asked. The coach said that they were waiting for a bus to go to a basketball scrimmage – but the officers did not care and threatened to arrest him if he did not back off.

These are law-abiding young men, who were minding their business. They were waiting for a bus. And for that, they were demonized and arrested.

I saw the story on Roland Martin’s site (http://rolandmartinreports.com/blog/2013/12/coach-defends-students-arrested-at-bus-stop/) and I was enraged. Perhaps I got as angry as I got because I had just watched the remaining segments of Henry Gates’ “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” and I was reminded of how much work has gone into getting rights and dignity for African-Americans, but whatever the reason, I was enraged because what was described in the story about the young men was nothing but sheer harassment and an abuse of power.

“We the people” don’t know how common that sort of thing is. “We the people” are too ready to accept media accounts of “crime” on the streets and buy into and contribute to the demonization of young black kids.

My son, thankfully, got through his teen years without being arrested for being young and stupid, or young, black, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got through his teens  without being harassed by police officers. But so many young black kids, especially young black males, are not so lucky …and many times, they are guilty of nothing other than being …young and black.

If Kerik is right – that if people see the injustice that goes on they will be angry and will want things to change, then “we the people” need to make sure that these tragic stories of injustice are not ignored. More than that, we ought to look for them and chronicle them so that the American public knows more of what is true instead of relying on the myth of “black badness.”

When the American people saw television reports on how black people in Alabama were being treated, when they saw how victims of Hurricane Katrina – primarily poor and black – were being treated, their backs went up. They didn’t like what they saw. They pressed for justice.

They saw and they reacted …and if that’s what it takes to get popular support for justice, then we need to make sure that the stories of the rampant injustice which is so common for black people – gets notice.  After facts are checked, when we come across stories of this type of injustice, we ought to, we need to , farm it out to journalists, programs and organizations who have the capacity to “spread the word” and garner attention to what is still going on.

Unless we cry for justice, there will be none. Politicians, lawmakers, and others in power count on our being ignorant, complacent, and/or silent. We can’t afford to do that. Too many young black people are being picked off and demonized by a power structure which has much to lose if its political strategy backfires. They need black people to be demonized in order to woo the fearful and fretful numbers of Americans who need to believe that their perception of “the bad Negro” are correct.

Their perceptions are wrong, and “we the people” need to do all we can to shatter the myths.

A candid observation …

Kerik Now Sees Issues with American Prison System

In an interview with Today Show host Matt Lauer, ex-New York Police Chief Bernard Kerik said that America‘s prison system is broken.

“It’s okay  to punish individuals for doing wrong,” he said, “but it’s not okay destroy them for doing something wrong,” he said. As he talked, he gave Matt Lauer a nickel to hold.  Asking Matt to take note of the weight of the nickel, Kerik said that young men are being locked up for having five grams of cocaine”…an amount of cocaine that has the weight of a nickel.  (http://www.today.com/news/nypd-chief-turned-inmate-kerik-prison-system-broken-8C11509923) “That’s insane.”

I n his first interview since his release from prison where he served time for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, Kerik spoke with TODAY’s Matt Lauer about lessons learned. He said the plunge from police chief to prisoner allowed him to see numerous examples of why imposing mandatory minimum sentences doesn’t work. Instead of discouraging criminal behavior, it sets up inmates for failure, he said.

“The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them,” he said.

What Kerik is saying isn’t new, but I wonder if because a white man, a former law enforcement officer who admits he “threw people in jail and threw away the key,” more people will listen.

The issue of mass incarceration was brilliantly brought to light in Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc, conducted a series of hearings in several states recently to hear about the problem and its collateral consequences, but due to the criminalization and objectification of  those who are incarcerated, which tend to disproportionately be young black men, few people, especially those in positions to help do something about it, listen.

Mandatory minimum sentencing, the “war on drugs,” and the “southern strategy” have all contributed to the huge numbers of people incarcerated today.  The privatization of prisons is also a huge factor in the vast numbers of people being thrown into jail. The object or purpose of the justice system, it seems, is not to “correct” but to control people and make a profit while doing it. In that respect, modern day prisons are little different than old-style plantations.  It is a new form of slavery, inmates and their families say.

Kerik was adamant in his new perspective gained from having been locked up. “If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it,” he said in the interview.

Prison and the need for prison reform is not a favorite subject for Americans.  The “tough on crime”  and “law and order” mantras that are a part of American political  discourse are responsible for the willingness of people to look away from the serious problems that have come with mass incarceration.  The fact that one in three African-American males are in prison is no issue for Americans who have been infected and affected by the criminalization of black males. The prevalent feeling seems to be that those who commit crimes lose their rights, including the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

Nobody really seems to care or be concerned about the fact that America imprisons more people than any of the other modern nations in the world. The conditions inside prisons is leading the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference to call the issue one of human rights violations, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as justification and citing violations of the same.

Kerik said that it is impossible for a young man to be in a prison for 10 years for having five grams of cocaine and come out, ready to be integrated into society. Prison doesn’t prepare inmates for re-entry and society makes it difficult if not impossible for them to survive once they are released.

Had he not been thrown into prison, Kerik said, his perspective would never have changed.

It’s not a new thing in America that, until an issue affects white people is really isn’t an issue.  The “war on drugs” was okay and needed as long as everyone knew that it was “those people” who did drugs and therefore needed to be locked up. With the explosion, however, of prescription drug abuse, and the large numbers of white people being adversely affected by it, the conversation began to shift. Drug addiction began to be talked of as an “illness.”

With Kerik’s interview, coupled with Alexander’s book and the findings of the testimonies gathered by the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., perhaps more people will look at the issue of mass incarceration, and work to change not only it, but the collateral consequences it has caused and continues to cause.

America cannot run all over the world trying to address human rights violations without addressing its own shortcomings.  America’s justice system has wreaked havoc on society, not improved it. Destroying the lives of people who make mistakes is not a good thing, not on any level. Black people have been saying that for a while; maybe now that Kerik is saying it, someone will begin to listen.

A candid observation …

 

On Forgiveness

Some years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive WHO?  The book dealt with the difficulty of forgiving the people who have hurt us most, based on the directives by God to do so – not just once, but over and over. It was and is a dastardly “ask,” frankly, and yet God demands it. At the end of the day, we help ourselves when we forgive those who have ripped our very souls to shreds. Holding onto the anger and hurt at having been done wrong does nothing good for us. The need to be “right” seems to, be physically, emotionally and spiritually damaging.

So it is with interest that I have been watching the Paula Deen debacle. She has apologized…and is asking forgiveness from those whom she offended.  The ball has been thrown into the court of the offended. What they do with it will determine their souls’ lives, not Paula’s.

I am offended by the “n” word; I do not for a moment believe that many white people have used it in public to refer to African-Americans because that word was a big part of American history. It was so much a part of our history that black people called themselves the “n” word, and continue to do so today. It is absolutely maddening to me to hear it used by anyone; kids saying to me to lighten up because it doesn’t mean anything makes me even madder. It is a horrible word and it came from a horrible place of hatred, arrogance and a false sense of superiority of one group over another.

So, I don’t really believe Paula or anyone who says he or she has “never” used that word at some point in their lives.

Some have said that Paula is not sincere in her apology; she is “sorry” only because she was found out, but isn’t that the case with most of us? When we do wrong, we hope we will get away with it. If we get caught, aren’t most of us first “sorry” because we got caught, and only after that “sorry” that we may have offended someone?  So if that’s the case with Paula, she’s not all that out of the norm. And if she’s sorry because she is, as Today Show host Matt Lauer suggested, “bleeding financially, that’s understandable too.

But at the end of the day, Paula apologized, and that ought to be enough. For God-fearing, Christ– following people, none of whom are perfect, her apology ought to be enough. We ought to be able to forgive her because …she made a mistake. We all do. We ought to be willing to forgive her because …God demands that we do.

The “n” word is a horrible word; I wish it would go away. Worse, I wish it had never come into being, with all of the negative attachments it has. Nobody had the right to cast black people into such a despicable place, and brand them as less than human. But it was done…and the bleeding from that would has not stopped. We keep pretending that racism is gone, or that the tentacles that racism spawned have disappeared. They have not. The old thoughts, words and attitudes linger; they are like pus that will not stop bubbling beneath our wounds.

Paula Deen is not a bad lady. She is a product of how she grew up, as we all are. It would be good to get this pesky word completely erased from our history and from our present-day, but it is not likely to disappear soon. For what it’s worth, Paula Deen, I forgive you. It’s easier for me if I do. There’s too much work to do to stay stuck on what you said in a deposition. I forgive you and I believe you’re sorry.

Time to move on.

A candid observation …