Let’s be real. Most Americans have never given two shits about Baltimore’s decaying housing, dilapidated schools, corrupt police force, rising unemployment, lack of proper health care, access to healthy food and overall deteriorating social conditions. When Freddie Gray’s death sparked days of peaceful protest, most Americans, media included, still didn’t give the country’s 26th most populated city, half a thought. It wasn’t until the protest morphed into an explosive uprising, likely triggered by outside forces, that so-called well-meaning citizens around the nation began pretending to be concerned about “rioters and looters destroying their own communities”. Before these events, the only time the general populace even thought about Baltimore’s residents and its crumbling infrastructure was as a form of voyeuristic entertainment on The Wire. Damn hypocrites.
In typical fashion, mainstream media has brushed aside the human element and deeply troubling cause of the unrest, choosing to sensationalize looting and property damage instead. CNN and Fox have written a simplified, more palatable version of the story, giving Americans a diverse cast of characters to distract themselves with. Celebrated and paraded as role models by Conservatives and Democrats alike, white America’s new heroes (at least for the next 15 minutes) include:
* Toya Graham who beat her son live on TV to prevent him from risking his life protesting and became white America’s “Mother of the Year” for doing what they’d secretly like to do to every Black protester. Never mind the fact that CPS is now launching a child abuse investigation.
* Robert Valentine, a 72 year old Vietnam veteran who stood in front of a row of police officers on live TV and told young rioters to “take their butts home”. When interviewed by a CNN reporter, Mr. Valentine said, “I’m not black, white, red or yellow — nothing. I am an American”, a statement sure to warm the spirit of any white person who’s ever pretended to not see color. Anderson Cooper called Valentine a hero.
* An unidentified young boy photographed handing out water bottles to a line of officers in full riot gear. The touching picture quickly went viral, helping “white people who don’t have a single racist bone in their body” realize that “not all Black youth are thugs after all”. Heartwarming, isn’t it?
While I don’t doubt the pure intentions of these individuals for a second, their blatant exploitation is disgusting. The propaganda machine used their likeness to craft a new, more digestible public narrative, strategically pushing the average person to forget the root of the unrest and remember only those “lawless looters and the heroes who helped put an end to the chaos”. Two days later, with relative calm having returned to Baltimore, the Washington Post had the balls to report that Freddie Gray might have severed his own spinal cord. In the meantime, Rand Paul blamed Baltimore’s unrest on “lack of fathers” and Texas GOP Rep. Bill Flores linked Baltimore protests to gay marriage. Thankfully, amidst the distraction tactics, the six police officers who had Mr. Gray in their custody while he suffered fatal injuries have been charged with manslaughter and second degree murder. Maybe breaking windows does work after all.
Will the charges stick? Time will tell but America’s had a poor track record holding law enforcement accountable for their crimes. For now, the media machine is back to business as usual and by next week, Baltimore’s protests will be just another page in mainstream America’s scrapbook. What were those annoying protestors rioting about again? Who cares? The Mayweather vs. Pacquiao event is around the corner. That’s the kind of feel-good fight all Americans can comfortably get behind, right?
Sebastien Elkouby is a creative consultant, Hip Hop culture historian, writer, award-winning educator and co-host of Take No Prisoners Radio. For more info, go to SebIsHipHop.com or contact him at [email protected] Find him on Twitter at SebIsHipHop.