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“It was a peaceful event”: How media framed Saturday’s event and virtually eliminated any analysis of state violence that targets the Black community

July 18, 2016

(As a matter of transparency, I was part of the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids action at the Am I Next rally on Saturday.)Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.41.32 AM

On Saturday, several hundred people gathered at Rosa Parks Circle for an event entitled Am I Next, organized by four black teenagers, in response to recent shootings across the US.

The rally lasted about an hour and featured a representative from the City of Grand Rapids, commentary from the four organizers, the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, 2 representatives from the Western branch of the ACLU, someone from the Be Nice campaign and several religious leaders. 

The rally speakers had some useful things to say, but much of the information that was shared focused on individual behavior, particularly on what individuals need to do to be safe and protect themselves. This was overwhelmingly the message of the person from the Be Nice campaign and the information that was shared by the ACLU about “knowing your rights.”Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 12.08.30 PM

In other words, there was no critique or analysis of state violence at the hands of law enforcement. There was no analysis of why blacks are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement with repression and there was no critique of other systems of oppression such as  White Supremacy and capitalism.

What the crowd was implored to do was to be nice or ask for a lawyer. Such advise is mostly irrelevant when people of color are confronted by state violence at the hands of the police. What good is it to be nice when the cops are beating you? The Grand Rapids Police Chief even had the audacity to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, by saying, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How dare he try to appropriate Dr. King and the Black Freedom movement, which was constantly monitored, harassed, arrested, brutalized and murdered by the very same law enforcement agencies.

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One of the main reasons why Black Lives Matter GR came to the Am I Next rally was to make it clear that police brutality and repression against the black community happens in Grand Rapids. This is why they stood up and held signs right in front of the stage when the Chief of Police spoke, so ask to make a clear statement about why it was problematic for the rally organizers to invite the head of an organization that targets, harasses and brutalizes black people on a daily basis in Grand Rapids. To read the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids statement, go to this link. 

How commercial media framed the event

As of this writing, there has been commercial news coverage on the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations and MLive.13707603_10153616898510966_4545522590783359987_n

The WOOD TV 8 story was framed as a “peaceful” event, juxtaposing the direct action tactics with other places in the country, with the permitted gathering in Grand Rapids. Framing the story this way made it seem like the gathering in Grand Rapids was respectable, when in fact, it demonized confrontational actions. The story gave voice to the organizers of the event and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police. They did mention the statement that BLM GR had published a few days earlier and that members where there to protest when the Chief of Police spoke, but no one from Black Lives Matter GR were interviewed.

The WZZM 13 story also promoted respectability politics and framed the story as a peaceful gathering. Channel 13 gave voice to the organizers of the event and an ACLU representative, but did include a quote from the Black Lives Matter statement on why they were not promoting the event. 13754105_10209939478944629_6977609487713386091_n

The WXMI 17 story continued the “peaceful” mantra, but offered no substantive difference to how the other TV stations covered the issue and completely ignored the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids presence. 

The Mlive story was also overly simplistic, with quotes from the organizers, a couple who attended the event and someone from the Grand Rapids Urban League. The MLive story did mention the action that the Grand Rapids Black Lives Matter group took while the Chief of Police spoke, along with a brief comment from one of the groups members at the end of the article, a comment which appears to be taken out of context. 

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