Peters: A Blind Eye to Baltimore

by William Peters | 5/12/15 6:57pm

On April 28, I began to realize something terrible — so many of us are completely out of touch with some of the horrors in our own country. The pivotal moment came in part because of my 10A, “The Wire,” an English course that examines the Baltimore-based television crime drama of the same name. Because of this class, I’ve been thinking a lot about the unrest in Baltimore. I asked a professor their thoughts on the remarks David Simon (the show’s creator) made about the prior’s day unrest in Baltimore, in which he criticized anger of demonstrators, saying, “If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.” To my surprise, the professor responded by asking what was happening. That was when I began thinking about how much of the situation has been ignored, distorted and misinterpreted — particularly by the mainstream media.

Rather than scrolling past Facebook posts about the riots and protests, I started reading them closely. One of the most notable featured a video of Fox News correspondent and talk show host Geraldo Rivera surrounded by protestors, seemingly harassing him and disrupting an interview with a city official. Thanks to trending feeds on social media, I was found a version of the incident posted by Dailykos.com. The video, which appears in higher resolution with better sound quality, allows viewers to actually hear what one protester was saying — “Because I want you and Fox News to get out of Baltimore City. Because you are not here reporting about the boarded up homes and the homeless people on the MLK. You’re not reporting about the poverty levels up and down North Avenue. Two years ago, when the 300-man march and we marched... you weren’t here. You’re here for the black riots! You’re not here for the death of Freddie Gray.” I have always thought that Fox News made their money by producing toxic and inaccurate reporting, but seeing such a blatant attempt at distorting the truth was nothing short of appalling.

Much like in Ferguson, Missouri, the issues that led to the Baltimore unrest are decades old and not unique to that city. Across the nation, racial profiling, police brutality and poor infrastructure have plagued cities for years. While there likely are not many Dartmouth students who come from areas like inner-city Baltimore, the reality of what is happening in Baltimore and what events have led to it should disturb everyone.

Watching “The Wire” (2002), I hoped the abusive tactics used by the show’s police officers were fictional or outdated. A September 2014 Baltimore Sun article, though, reported that the city paid almost $5.7 million to victims of police brutality between 2011 and 2014. These cases have ranged from the assault of an 87-year-old grandmother who was attempting to get medical help for her wounded grandson to a murder-suicide that involved a police officer killing a firefighter, his girlfriend and then himself. There is also the 2013 case of an off-duty officer who chased down and killed a 17-year-old boy after he allegedly threw a rock at the man’s front door. The officer was acquitted. When interviewed by Leland Vittert of Fox News, City Councilman Nick Mosby explained the reasons for protests and riots further saying, “This is about the social economics of poor urban America ... these young guys are frustrated,” echoing the protestor who challenged Rivera.

Clearly, Fox News and other media outlets that sensationalize their coverage try to shift the focus of the story from structural reasons for social unrest to the destruction and looting performed by black men. Thus, the sad reality about tragic situations like the one in Baltimore is that if we are going to ever improve anything, we must take it upon ourselves as individuals to consider from which source our coverage is coming and how they may distort the truth. We need to investigate the truth ourselves. Some media outlets have distorted the situation to the point where much of the reporting on the protests and riots is not credible. While I firmly agree that violence and destruction are never acceptable, I also understand that the people of Baltimore were left with no other choice. Their politicians have failed them, their police have brutalized them and their nation has neglected them. We need to start doing better, and we need to start now.