We have seen incidents like Ferguson almost every summer in the past umpteen years, and more paramilitary teams and tanks just deepen the divide, author and media analyst Daniel Schechter told RT.
RT: Another black man was killed a couple of kilometers away from Ferguson, what is this going to do to the situation?
Daniel Schechter: Of course it is going to make things more tense. The government is doing its best trying to chill this out, the Attorney General is headed to Ferguson and the White House has said that President Obama has just gone back from vacation and may go to Ferguson. This is a very big story, it is emerging as a national, not just a local story, because it is a symbol of a problem that has not been responded to, and in fact seems to be getting worse as the federal government supplies local police departments with military gear more suited for a war. So we have the militarization of police, the criminalization of the black community and the media seems to be incapable to look at these things except to react to them. These things are not new. Back in the 1960s when there were major riots and cities burning down in America there was a commission that studied this and found that we lived in two societies – one black and one white. It also found that the American media had systematically done a poor job representing conditions and grievances of black Americans. Fast forward all these years later and this problem still exists. I am sure that it is going to be a post mortem that will reveal how unprepared the media was for all of this and how it tends to be reactive in its coverage and how there are fewer and fewer black journalists working in the media today.
RT: How would you describe the way the US media covers events in Ferguson at the moment?
DS: For one thing a lot of the media people are white. The do not know much of what is happening in the black community, they tend to buy a lot of stereotypes, they do not have good sources. So they get to the story and then react to it. The police have set up a command post, a PR operation, trying to control the information about what is going on. They try to spin the story. On the other side, the community does not have the same level of organization and leadership to challenge that, so it takes a while for media people who are not from the community to sort it out, to know who is who, to depict it. This has been a problem consistently. When some white defendant commits a crime there is a tendency to say "He is such a nice boy, we cannot understand how this could have happened," whereas when a young black man is in the same situation there is a lack of sympathy, lack of compassion and understanding. That carries over into how the media covers it. The incidents reported in Huffington Post are pretty telling, but it is deeper than that. It is not just the question that media are partial to whites and against blacks; this is a story of how the poor also are demonized and made invisible in our society.
This is much deeper than just racial in its outcome. It may look racial, but it is also economic, and that also is not being covered in any real way. You have a bad educational system, you have a lack of employment opportunities, you have a lot of people on public assistance barely getting by, and you have drugs in the communities, because people's lives are miserable. There is a lethal combination which often erupts into anger and confrontations with the police and the police respond by treating the community as if they are in Iraq and show up with paramilitary SWAT teams, tanks and the alike. That just deepens the divide that is what we are seeing here. We need a whole different way of looking at these problems. We need a president and leadership that can understand this conflict and try to interpret it to the American people so that they can resolve it or we are doomed to constantly relive it.
RT: Racism is a sensitive issue for the American public. Is it something that is being openly debated?
DS: First of all, everybody on the economic side has agreed that we live in a country of intense economic inequality, and that impacts the most on minorities, the people who are in a sense permanently outside the economy, and this includes black youth. If you have a situation when the unemployment rate is 8-10 percent, it is triple for black young people in America. So it is not surprising that these incidents are triggered and that the police treat black communities and black youth almost as a colonial government would consider keeping the lid on in the societies they dominate. That is why there has been parallel seen between Gaza and Ferguson, because you have a kind of a colonial mentality. There have also been reports that Israeli security companies help train the police in Ferguson. There are a lot of parallels and problems that are much deeper than a day-to-day story, and it seems that a lot of our media does not seem capable of digging deeper and getting at the context and the background of stories like this, and showcasing this through the eyes of people who feel they are being oppressed, not just through the eyes of the people who want peace and order, but not necessarily justice.
There has been a pattern of police violence; it's not new or unique, in the Ferguson and St. Louis area. We have seen incidents like this almost every summer in the past umpteen years, with the police force giving exaggerated abuse to individuals. We have over two million people in jail in the US and a large percentage of them are black and Spanish-speaking Americans. There is a racial divide in our country and it shows itself up in the law enforcement procedures and also in the way media cover riots by minorities as well as the grievances of black communities, and they get downplayed until somebody does die.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.