How the Baltimore ‘riot’ became an uprising

By Pat Watson Wednesday May 06 2015 in Opinion
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They say that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it as the truth. That’s how it is when it comes to the stories that are told about African peoples. That is why it was so easy for some news media to run with an old narrative of what happened in Baltimore, Md., last week. They called it a riot.

The stories that have been told over and over again about how violent and dangerous African descended peoples are, whether hyphenated American, Canadian, Caribbean, Brazilian, are now so ingrained that it wasn’t until a peaceful protest in Baltimore demanding justice in the police related death of yet another unarmed African-American male, 25-year-old Freddie Gray – a protest which had been going on for days – was marred by looting that news media began to take notice and to run with the old narrative.

If interested individuals were not intent on finding out what really happened in Baltimore last week, they might have had to settle for the tired and well-worn headlines of feckless looters rioting in Baltimore.

They would not have learned how police began to move aggressively toward the young people who were protesting. They would not have heard about how police aggravated the situation by kettling students just as they were coming out of school last week.

They would not have heard about the long and grievous history of abuse that is visited upon African-American residents in one of the most distressed locales in the United States by a police force.

They would not have heard how youth are starved for recreational outlets, with no place to go but to hang out on street corners where they are then harassed by police because, as the well-worn story goes, when Black kids hang out they are really gangs plotting to commit their next crime.

In human biology, the brain tells the eyes what it sees, and if the mind already has a well-worn plot in place, it will influence the brain’s interpretation of the visual information.

What’s different is that the ones who would usually tell the story, those who have an ill-informed but easy-to-reach-for narrative are being usurped.

We are now well into the era of the smartphone and the Internet. If a picture is worth a thousand words then a mobile phone video is worth much more than the thousand words that all too often are told, that “Black people are bad and dangerous”.

It’s not that some nervous individuals wearing police uniforms and carrying deadly weapons have only just started taking the lives of unarmed Black males; it’s that they are being recorded doing it more often and those deadly actions are uploaded unedited, before those involved in the killings have time to concoct the usual script that is then fed to media outlets. So, Fox News’ Baltimore riot is the Twitter sphere’s Baltimore uprising.

Young people with smartphones are bypassing those news sources and going straight to the public. The volume of direct reports in 135 characters on Twitter is remarkable. The fact is that more time is now spent online than is spent in front of a television screen.

It seems the revolution will indeed not be televised. It will be tweeted and uploaded.

A note on irony…

Britons go to the polls today wrapping up an election campaign period that has not been without a heavy dose of irony. In a nation that has a history built on colonial conquest, it is really rich to hear supporters of the extreme right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) lament the 21st century colonization of parts of England by Eastern Europeans. Given Britain’s current weak economy, UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage want to limit immigration to England and want England to exit the European Union. But, Farage would prefer migrants from Australia and India, because…well, they’re more British. Of course, charges of racism have arisen. Farage and UKIP don’t stand a chance of winning the election. Yet, the question is up in the air about the odds of the Labour Party and Ed Milibrand taking over from incumbent Tory David Cameron or either of the two main parties having to form a coalition with UKIP to have a majority.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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