Whenever there are protests, media comes. It is an important story to witness and chiefly, to document. The reasons for the protests are multifaceted, yet the media also plays a role in them. Reporters bring to the job their own life experiences and biases. Many reporters are middle-class white, and in many respects do not understand the context of many of these protests. However, the last five years have added a layer of danger to what is already a dangerous job. This is the president calling the press fake news, luggenpresse. The result is that many reporters have been arrested on national tv, or shot at with less than lethal ammunition, The targeting has not been center of mass, but rather what police calls red zones. By this, I mean the face and the head.
At the same time, we see the press still take the word of public information officers and commanders who tell them the protesters started it. There is no questioning of this storyline like almost never. These days we have the ability to see aerial views that show the area where a protest is occurring. We can see what is happening, and talking to demonstrators would give the media the other side of the story. And the other side at times points to police tactics that got things riled up. There is the default position, where officers are always believed, or at least have more credibility than the protesters.
We must question whether some of this is access journalism. After all, local departments issue the press passes we all wear when covering these things. It’s not because it makes us important. It adds a very small layer of protection from arrest when attending these news stories. It also allows access to fire zones, to let citizens know when there are evacuations. And all those photos and videos are the work of reporters. But we all know that the authorities do not tell the truth all the time. It is a toolset in the officer’s bag, lie to get confessions, or lie to create a storyline that protects the department. This is about the thin blue line and it is part of the system that protesters are in the streets over. People are tired of the lies and oppression.
How many times have you heard over the grapevine of evidence planted by officers to make a case? The Innocence Project has a list of ongoing successful cases where they proved people were wrongly convicted. Many are African American and other people of color, who face a system of justice whose default stance is that they are guilty. It does not matter what we are told, about innocent until proven guilty. People of color face a much harder time when confronted by the justice system.
During the demonstrations, we also saw an escalation of force by police departments. If a police officer interacts with the crowd not wearing riot gear, that is a far less threatening stance than a line of officers in riot gear. The tactical situation is what it is, and the default position is one of us versus them. However, you will rarely see this addressed by media. Why are officers standing in full riot gear? Why not highlight those who in this round have taken off their gear and marched with demonstrators? Interestingly, Flint Michigan saw no damage or looting, after the Sherriff did exactly that. There have been others, but they are still the vast minority. This is recognition from that Sherriff, and others, that we need to talk. It is also deescalating in very volatile situations. It is also the first step into recognizing some of the issues that are facing minority communities.
We experienced it in San Diego when a peaceful protest went down towards the 163. It was not the California Highway Patrol that came for a fight. They had patrol cars, and officers in helmets. San Diego Police not only brought troops in riot gear, who stood in line and presented a menacing view, It was the department the one that also drove police cars behind the demonstration. In effect, they kettled the group, and thankfully there was still one way out, which they took it. It is this militarized response that amps up the tensions and can lead to violence. But most of the media refuses to ask, who starts many of these things? The police are trained in de-escalation, but instead, they were doing exactly things that are contrary to their mission to maintain peace.
From what we heard this morning from Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, who is also a Marine veteran. He said that “the tactics that are being used by police, which incite violence in these protests.”
We left the demonstration as the group was coming back to the Hall of Justice, so we did not witness this. However, he told the story of how they dealt with the protesters. Instead of letting them end their protest, and go home, the police met them with officers in full tactical gear and kettled them in. This leads to panic.
As I wrote above, we witnessed this tactic ourselves, but the march had a way to leave the high confrontation zone.
Then there is what happened in La Mesa the previous night. We know what law enforcement said. They started it…however, I first heard a version from the people on the ground that was different from that by law enforcement. Things started to go sideways when the officers tried to drive a Bearcat through the crowd. At the very least, the truth is somewhere in between. However, there is more.
According to Tasha Williamson, officers fired their bean bags at unnamed protestors, one who is in ICU right now. Williamson told assembled press, “she was shot in the head. She was one of four people that had headshots by La Mesa PD.” The weapons used for this are less than lethal beanbags, which as Kennedy noted are never shot at the head. He was trained while in the Marine Corp in crowd control in Iraq. He also pointed out that officers have more extensive training than eighteen-year-old Marines.
Williamson also said that they were aware that the Sheriff’s department put out a statement saying that it was not them. But she did mention the more than a few times that departments have not told the truth. Or have embellished it.
The media knows this, and she asked the media to stand on the right side and not let the police narrative be the only narrative that is told. Of course, there are reforms that are needed with law enforcement, urgently so. In my view, one is to make it a felony for officers to lie. They do it often, they do it all the time. The other is to mandate the release of body camera footage and to finally get Civilian Review Boards with teeth. Moreover, the media has a responsibility to put these events in context. We also need to question, not just repeat what we are told.
We know that locally we have racial profiling, it is not over there, it is over here, We even had a study done by San Diego State that found this. And yes, we saw a troubling pattern of dancing around the issue, at the very least, by the Police Chief and city council officials. The study was watered down. Why? Because we keep dancing around these things.
The anger is not accidental. This is not coming out of anywhere. What happened in Minneapolis is happening everywhere. Why we keep with the hashtags. Why the list of names keeps growing. Whether it is Tamir Rice or Alfred Olango. These are patterns. So it is time that we stop dancing around it because people are watching what we say and what we do width the information.
Incidentally, many of the thugs (which is code for black bodies in case you wonder), are actually white people, in their twenties. Whether they are taking advantage of the situation, or are part of a movement is immaterial. The people who are blamed for this are not the people doing the looting. Nor are they the ones paying the price with their lives.