Most US media coverage of the events in Baltimore gave narrow scrutiny to the outbreak of violence and images of rioting after unrest swept the northeast American city Monday afternoon. The rioting followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a spinal cord injury in police custody. Some alternative media outlets focused on what has been neglected: peaceful protests and police brutality.
Tuesday’s headlines focused on the protestors’ turn toward destruction and looting, favouring fiery images of angry rioters and burning police cruisers and vans, or torched buildings. The New York Times printed this front-page headline: "Clashes Rock Baltimore After Funeral; Curfew Is Set." The Los Angeles Times went for: "Protests turn into rioting in Baltimore." CNN’s coverage tipped towards scathing commentary on the violence. And a large number of papers reposted a hackneyed AP photo of a man walking haggardly away from a burning police van.
Reports from Wednesday’s pages took down a notch the visceral treatment of the events, although many still focused on renewed clashes. Two Maryland papers led with the headline: '"We are all Baltimore" in reference to the words of former councilman Daryl Jones. The articles under those headlines, nonetheless, talked about families and communities shaken by the violence, but still hopeful for change. The hashtag: #BaltimoreUprising is now competing with #BaltimoreRiots.
Some journalists and community activists, nonetheless, pointed out media silence on the brutality of the police and law enforcement in Baltimore, which is long-standing. One article widely shared on social media, titled Noncompliance as Violence, questioned why priority is given to the protection of police officers despite charges of perpetual abuse. The writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic, cites a local investigation into these charges by which the city of Baltimore paid out “$5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police officers brazenly beat up alleged suspects.” These payouts, Coates writes, are cover-ups for the brutal acts of that police department.
An interview between activist DeRay McKesson and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer took a downturn when the host asked McKesson if he wanted peaceful protests. McKesson, in the video shown here replied: “Yes, for sure. And remember: the people who have been violent have been the police. We think about the 300 people who have been killed by police this year alone — now, that is violence ... ”
After a short exchange, Blitzer tells McKesson: “I am not making a comparison [between protestor and police violence]. I just want to hear you say there should be peaceful and not violent protests.” McKesson responds: “You are making a comparison. You are suggesting that broken windows is worse that broken spines.”
Other media outlets covered peaceful protests. Buzzfeed published photos of clergymen, youth, families, and activists peacefully marching or protesting. Some photos included people sweeping in front of a pharmacy damaged in the riots, and cleaning up other areas.
In that vein, marches and protests took place in several cities to paint a different picture of the unrest. In New York, Black Lives Matter activists and organisations, a movement that sprung up in 2012 in response to the acquittal of the shooter of a black teen, gathered in Union Square with hundreds others. This is the second time in the past few months that police killings of black people has fuelled nationwide protests. In late November, people took to the streets in cities across the US to protest a court verdict clearing a white officer of the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the predominantly black city of Ferguson, Missouri.
As advertised on its Facebook callout, one of the protest’s aims was to dispel the media’s portrayal of “the people of Baltimore as rioters and looters.” “If you go on CNN, NBC, or FOX news, you see them replaying the same riot scene,” Jeremy Divinity, a student attending the protest, said. “But if you go on social media, you see the stories that have not been written.”
Divinity’s father is a cop, but believes police departments should undergo some reform.
Another protestor, Shaun Hailey, was holding up a sign that read: “Baltimore, an Uprising, not a Riot.” He told Ahram Online: “Riots are uncontrolled and happen for no reason. There is a reason for what is happening and the reason is how police interact with minorities.”
Hailey is a pastor and came from Dallas, Texas to join the protest.
Before protestors started marching, New York Police handed out flyers and gave instructions by megaphone not to march in the streets or block sidewalks, or risk arrest. Leah Kaplan, who usually avoids protests for fear of getting arrested, said she would march to protest the “absurd form of oppression taking place.” Handing out copies of black power literature, specifically handouts of one of Stokely Carmichael’s speeches, she told Ahram Online that only a resurfacing of the black movement can change things.
Protestors marched on, chanting: “Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Shut the Whole System Down,” “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” and other slogans.
They were met by riot police, who blocked them at one square entrance. According to US police, at least 60 people were arrested in New York protests. Local groups of protesters believe the number exceeded 100.
The march split into a few smaller ones, which spread across Downtown Manhattan. Some continued marching in the streets.
Other solidarity rallies were held in Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Diego, Chicago, and other US cities.