Monday, December 1, 2014

Incidents and their Context

One of my young conservative friends copied a post onto Facebook wondering where the outrage was when a black cop shot a white teen in Mobile, Alabama.  You may have seen something of the same circulating on the Internet from conservative sources complaining that liberal and/or mainstream media ignored the Alabama incident, thus exposing their reverse bigotry.

It’s not a bad question once you ignore the propaganda style hyperbole.  I’m not interested in media baiting, but I am interested in what differences there might be that are worthy of examination, and I think there are differences.  There is a difference between an incident that may involve a serious injustice and a climate of systemic injustice in which an incident occurs that may not have involved an injustice.

In a case where an incident involving police results in an injustice that is not otherwise associated with a climate of systemic injustice, the likelihood is that the matter will be resolved locally, attracting little wide spread media attention.  Such incidents are not uncommon.  Each of our communities has them, and for the most part we see no reason why someone hundreds of miles away would or should be interested.  In the Mobile case we have to admit that black cops are not normally seen as agents of systemic oppression against white teens, and so the incident can be resolved within the context of local protocols.

The Ferguson case occurred within the context of a pattern of systemic injustices in which an incident involved a white cop, widely understood by the black community to be an agent of those in power, fatally shot an unarmed young black man.  It turned out that the black teen who was killed was not an innocent young man, unarmed though he was, and that his death was probably the predictable, if tragic, result of his own behavior.  That doesn’t matter  because his death was seen by many as symbolic of a culture and wide spread pattern of injustices in which blacks have been systematically treated in a hostile, oppressive way by the police and others in power.  The right incident at the right time ignited nation wide interest.

Maybe nation wide interest would have been enough, but I believe that the nonstop media frenzy, especially from cable news networks, added the necessary heat and fuel for a few sparks to ignite violent protests.  More on that  in a minute.  

In the meantime, my young conservative friend wanted a definitive answer.  Who was right?  Who was wrong?  Put the blame where it belongs and walk away.  It isn’t that simple.  One must examine the context within which any incident of injustice may, or may not, have occurred.  The problem is that it requires slowing down, not leaping to conclusions, and being willing to address issues on several different levels at the same time.  Moreover, the examination will probably show the messiness of more than a few individual decisions that helped or hindered.  Not many people on either side are willing to do that.  They’d rather operate by the good old American dictum: Ready, Fire, Aim, and they are more than wiling to leave off the aim part unless it favors their political prejudices.  Let me put it this way.  This isn’t a football game.  You don’t get to throw the flag, review the call up in the booth, show the whole thing in slow motion on the Jumbotron, and play the down over.


Now then, back to the violent protests, as opposed to the many others that were not violent.  I’ll offer three thoughts.  First, some of the instigators were ideologically driven persons who believe that violence in protest is the preferred way to bring down the oppressors.  Oddly enough, those on the far left and those on the far right are in agreement on this.  Second, some of the instigators enjoy the violence, especially for the opportunities it offers to act out their anger, take revenge, and loot for their own personal gain.  They turn up whenever violence is an option.  Third, the cable news networks thrive on the mayhem, doing what they can to inflame and sensationalize it, pandering to the lowest common denominator of their viewers.  I find each of them repulsive, and am not interested in what they have to say in their own defense because I believe it to be hypocritically self serving.  Other than that, I have no strong opinions on the matter one way or the other.  Well, I do have a few thoughts about a couple of newspaper columnists, but that can be for another time.

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