Protests aren’t what they look like on TV

published on July 17, 2020

"Minneapolis on fire" "This is getting serious" "Oh, oh, oh my goodness" You watch the TV news "We've got a little bit of a fire breaking out on the left here" and you're like, oh my goodness, all the protests are riots "vandalizing"

"Fires have been started" "Things got out of control" We're not gonna pay attention to the protesters in a city that has been wracked by this violence "No justice, no peace!" who are marching peacefully,

And chanting names "George Floyd, George Floyd, George Floyd" Which is going to get more attention? A group of 35 people standing, chanting names, singing songs, doing the Cupid Shuffle, as I saw one group of protesters doing, or, five people on the ground bleeding and screaming and crying and throwing rocks?

Our press is driven by eyeballs, and attention, and clicks, and advertising, and passion, and raising the anxiety of viewers Dramatic images are money They keep eyeballs on the screen So they will constantly show action You need to understand the limitations of those visuals I'm a college professor

My doctorate is in political science, I teach in a journalism department I would say, across the board, the coverage has not been very good It's passing, but it's not very good And the reason it's not very good is because there are not enough conversations about the roots of these protests What they are showing you is what is happening right now on the ground

What those visuals cannot tell you is the entire historical context that has led to that scene on the ground And one thing that a lot of mainstream media doesn't do well is give you that full context You can't untangle this moment from where we are, just in this year Starting with February, with the coronavirus Ahmaud Arbery's lynching,

Having people in shelter in place, having people become angry that they are in shelter in place orders, having the economy significantly slow down There are so many events, just since January, that led up to this moment Not to mention the hundreds of years before that

This becomes a very complicated story "Come to me right now This woman just got tased" Who is to blame for the violence? It is crazy that when we talk about destruction of property, that the presumption is that the unarmed people who are protesting are more likely to cause property destruction

Than the paramilitary cops who are showing up Because tear gas canisters are really hot, flash bombs can start fires, tear gas leads people to run and break through windows in order to hide and get help I'm not saying the police are intending to cause damage But if you're randomly shooting out tear gas, it's gonna end up in the back alley, with a pile of newspapers and some garbage

Does that mean that there aren't protesters who engage in destruction? Of course there are To say that that all this is turning into looters is like saying everybody at the party is a drunk driver No Some people will leave and cause problems

But you can't say everybody at the party is the worst-behaving person I think one thing that we actually don't do well, and don't quite understand, is anti-blackness, and how it works in our society, how it is in our language, and how it is used by mainstream media We have spent the last month watching protests who want the country to open up, and we saw images of these people screaming, and yelling, and spitting on

Police officers, who were plainclothes officers They weren't in riot gear They weren't in masks Now we see protests based on violence and death And we see peaceful protesters come out But suddenly, the cops come out in riot gear, and everything looks like some sort of violent takeover in some 80s post-apocalyptic film

What I'm reminded of are photos in New Orleans of white people leaving stores with food, and the headline being, this is how people are surviving And black folks leaving the store with food, and calling them looters This is about a community that is treated differently by the police in our country Just consuming the news right now in the next five days

Is not going to give you a good understanding as to why this is happening The emails I get, where people say, Well, I was in favor of the protesters, and then they turned violent, and it's a problem Well, why are you more offended by people being violent, in response to state-sponsored violence, than you are by the initial act that caused everything?

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