“…They are demanding answers and they say they are not going to go away until they get them. The groups say next they plan on collaborating with the National Black Lives Matter group and staging riots in the streets if necessary; that is if the National City Police Department doesn’t release police body worn camera [footage] of an incident where a man died in custody.” —NBC 7 Reporter Wendy Fry
UPDATE: “Never mind” says NBC7. “An NBC 7 article referred to demonstrators staging riots in the streets in their pursuit of information. NBC 7 could not attribute that development to a specific community leader and has corrected the text. We greatly regret the error.” (See tweet quoted in story below)
UPDATED UPDATE: The reporter in question is sorry/not sorry
Protests are sometimes loud. They’re always messy. And they’re emotional. They’re challenging for reporters to cover because of the linguistic shorthand used by activists to make their points.
NBC7’s Wendy Fry takes the cake for decorating her reporting with racist suppositions drawn from the tumultuous protests ongoing at council meetings in National City.
Make no mistake about it, race and violence are at the forefront of what’s going on. A mentally ill Black man died after being in police custody. His injuries were so severe the San Diego County Sheriffs Department refused to book him into jail, saying he needed urgent medical attention.
Earl McNeil arrived at UCSD medical center missing several teeth and clumps of hair; his wrists, hands, and arms were swollen on top of a spinal cord injury and brain damage so severe, he was placed on life support. Two weeks later, he died. The family wants answers.
National City authorities don’t want to say anything more than he had a “medical condition.” Body cam footage won’t be released until the coroner completes a toxicology report. [That’s official code for ‘we’re hoping to be able to say he was on drugs.’] The autopsy is sealed at the request of a “law enforcement agency.”
(NBC7 and other news agencies have requested a copy of the letter asking for the report to be sealed.)
For too many people in National City and beyond, this translates to “this black life didn’t matter.” The family has met with city officials. They believe something is being hidden about the circumstances of McNeil ‘s arrest.
So tensions in National City have ratcheted up each week. Activists have escalated from speeches to disruptions to sit-ins and arrests at City Council meetings.
I’ll come back to what’s been going on in National City, but first I want to deal with the NBC story.
Let’s start with the Black Lives Matter part of Wendy Fry’s report on NBC7.
It seemed obvious to me she’d bought into some part of right-wing mythology about the group as a violence-prone bunch of Black thugs who hate white people.
I’ve had a fair number of interactions with Black Lives matter activists and never witnessed anything more than dedicated, non-violent activism. And I didn’t know there was a National Black Lives Matter group available to stage riots on demand.
But, who knows, maybe I’m wrong.
San Diego Free Press contributor Anne Haule interviewed BLM activist Deray McKesson a few years back when he was the featured speaker at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest, and he certainly didn’t strike her as a riot organizer or somebody who’d be comfortable with a violence-prone organization:
He has an engaging, low-key candor that put the mostly white audience at ease. He’s a good-looking 31 year old man with a unique style – wearing a preppy Patagonia vest with slim jeans and European style pointed shoes with colorful socks. He’s soft-spoken with an indistinct diction and fast flowing words.
He has an impressive background having taught underprivileged students through Teach for America and currently holding an executive position with the Baltimore school system.
I Googled “Black-Lives-Matter-violence.” Surely there would be some reporting somewhere about the group’s activities, and there was.
There was this story in Cosmopolitan about misconceptions of the BLM movement. There was this overview at CNN looking at the viability of their tactics and strategy. There was this explainer at the Atlantic for how the group is mischaracterized as being akin to neo-Nazis and Antifa.
There were no mentions of any organizing for riots in any mainstream news organizations.
There were quotes to found from an assortment of right-wing politicians like Rudy Guiliani and Donald Trump suggesting there was a connection between the group and the deaths of police officers, but no actual evidence; just rhetoric from people whose racist agenda is as plain as the nose on their face.
A right-wing research group called “Influence Watch,” which draws its data from the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute suggested Black Lives Matter turns a blind eye towards violence. Even they had nothing say about the availability of BLM organizers to stage riots on demand.
I did learn, by going to the Black Lives Matter website that there is no ‘national’ group. The website highlights programs on media literacy, promoting Black Culture, and Black history. It’s member chapters have a wide range of different programs. Needless to say, combating racism is a core purpose.
What the movement has in common is opposition to oppression, incarceration, and racism. Reforming police practices through Campaign Zero is a movement promoting ten proposals, all of which are aimed at reducing police violence that grew out of BLM.
I couldn’t find anything referencing NBC reporter Wendy Fry’s reporting on organizing riots, but I’m pretty sure I have an idea where she might have acquired that assumption.
Law enforcement is more than a function of government. The special status of people who put their lives on the line to keep communities safe and peaceful has created a sub-culture with some questionable core beliefs.
The history of police being used as agents of social control includes an ongoing relationship with racist ideologues (and misogynist viewpoints). Identification of certain classes of people as being part of the ‘other’–which is, unfortunately, coming back into fashion in a big way– allows the humans entrusted with keeping the peace to suppress feelings of empathy in the name of discipline.
The movement to reform the police and judicial practices, of which BLM is a big part, has drawn opposition from law enforcement. Evidence-based practices under consideration are attacked through fear mongering.
Everybody remembers the crime wave predicted in the wake of California’s Proposition 47’s passage, right? And how about those marijuana-crazed zombies overrunning elementary schools after Prop 64 passed?
When the fear-mongering aimed at the “criminals” doesn’t seem to be working, ad hominem attacks on those advocating the reforms is the next tactic in the campaign to preserve the status quo.
And that’s where the mythology of Black Lives Matter as a violent ideology/organization comes from. The group emerged in the wake of uprisings against the questionable deaths of Black people at the hands of police. Some of those uprisings involved rioting. If you’re a law enforcement organization looking to oppose reforms arising from those confrontations, it behooves you to suggest a tie between violent acts and the movement for change.
If you’re a reporter looking for regular access to police sources, you’ve got to at least buy into looking sympathetic to those arguments. I believe getting too sympathetic to official sources is a HUGE problem these days.
I have no doubt the NBC reporter heard the words “Black Lives Matter” and something about “taking to the streets.” I have no doubt she’ll say she’s not racist, maybe even the least racist person she knows of.
This does not change the fact that her choice of words–which might have been chosen for their attention-getting value–amounted to ammunition for assholes. Racist assholes, that is.
Some cracker’s now gonna feel entitled to use 911 as a personal valet service because, you know, “riots.”
I pointed out what happens with those kinds of assumptions last week.
It is also unacceptable these days to:
Coupon While Black
Graduate Boisterously While Black
Wait for a School Bus While Black
Have a Temper Tantrum in Kindergarten While Black
Drink Iced Tea While Black
Wait at Starbucks While Black
Shop for Underwear While Black
Engage in Loud Conversation While Black
Golf Too Slowly While Black
Buy Clothes at Barney’s, or Macy’s,or Nordstrom Rack While Black
Get Locked Out of Your Home While Black
Use the Gym While Black
and (drumroll, please)
UPDATE: Oh, lookie! NBC7 “fixed” the problem
An NBC 7 article referred to demonstrators staging riots in the streets in their pursuit of information. NBC 7 could not attribute that development to a specific community leader and has corrected the text. We greatly regret the error. https://t.co/MVknI5gSZb
— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) July 19, 2018
Let’s look around at some of the other coverage of what’s been transpiring in National City.
No mention of possible riots at CBS8 News:
Protesters on Tuesday made their way into a National City Council meeting to demand answers over the death of Earl McNeil.
Last month, McNeil’s relatives said he had gone to NCPD headquarters at 1200 National City Blvd. to ask for assistance of some kind. Instead, McNeil was taken to San Diego Central Jail and then wound up at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest with a grim prognosis.
Relatives said McNeil wound up in a coma after suffering severe brain damage while in custody. He never woke up. McNeil died after being taken off life support last month.
No mention of riots at KPBS:
Tasha Williamson, the spokeswoman for the McNeil’s family, said they met with Chief Rodriguez on June 18.
“They were crying, they were upset visibly, he smirked and he smiled the entire time, just like he was here. He told them his officers did nothing wrong. We said ‘if that’s the case release the tapes,'” Williamson said.
Police Chief Rodriguez said the department doesn’t release body-cam footage in ongoing investigations.
“This is not an officer-involved shooting. There isn’t a particular moment in this incident that is going to show anything. Earl McNeil died as a result of a medical issue, I don’t know what that is, that’s why we are waiting on the medical examiner,” he said during a break in the meeting.
Nothing at 10News:
Family members and community leaders want NCPD Chief Manuel Rodriguez to release the body camera video and the names of the officers who were involved in the incident.
“Every person of color in the United States of America knows that the videos can be released because every time a video exonerates an officer the police department’s release it immediately while it’s under investigation,” said community activist Mark Lane, who was later arrested for refusing police orders to move out of a fire exit.
One by one, residents took to the microphone to blast the National City Police Department.
Maybe this is where the “riot” part of the NBC story came from, via the Union Tribune :
“We’ve been very civil … We haven’t protested in the streets,” said activist Tasha Williamson. “But I can’t guarantee we’ll keep it that way.”
Williamson, who was arrested last month after she shouted past the time limit on public comments, maintained a calm voice as she recounted the day McNeil was taken off life support in the presence of her, his family and others.
“We watched as his body twitched,” she said. “We watched his family become inconsolable.”
Finally, here’s a snip from Aaryn Belfer’s story about his death at City Beat, entitled God’s Child:
Not surprisingly, the NCPD has been largely radio silent on this entire fiasco, particularly (and disgustingly) with McNeil’s family who wants answers. Having initially offered to show the family surveillance and body cam footage, they have since reversed course. The family wonders, too, after almost a month, whether any video they may get to see has been altered. No officers have been placed on leave. And the excuse of an internal investigation is laughable. There is, understandably, a lack of trust. The police do not deserve the McNeil family’s trust or ours as San Diegans who care about justice.
This is further reinforced by the predictable statement NCPD released to media, which, in classic form, blames McNeil for his injuries. But doing so also implicates them. Rather than calling in a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) to help with an agitated person suffering from paranoia, NCPD “de-escalated” the situation by placing McNeil in the aforementioned Wrap and then claim that, “[d]uring the transport, Mr. McNeil was intentionally hurting himself.”
Reader, you need to Google the device and then think about this preposterous blame-the-victim stance. Again: a person in a Wrap cannot move. He can’t scratch his face, or cross his legs or even stand up. He also can’t brace himself for a fall or, say, an impact that would come from riding sans seatbelt in the back of a police van driven erratically and taking hard turns at high speeds. This kind of driving is called a rough ride in the police world, and it is how Freddie Gray wound up with his life-ending spinal cord injury.
— Susannah (@lanuovasuzy) July 18, 2018
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