We're not on the same page when it comes to race relations in America. Not in the tiny town of Ferguson, Missouri, or the megalopolis of New York City.
Any urban environment in this country, including San Diego, is a tinderbox one spark from ignition.
My beloved hometown of Baltimore was the proving ground last week. Cable TV news was there 24/7, capturing all the black, white and Freddie Gray flashpoints: Incendiary riots. Political hesitation. Peaceful marches. Curfew. Police lines. Indignation from black residents, handcuffed by socioeconomic forces that allow few avenues of pushback against institutionalized oppression.
If race relations have taken two steps forward since the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, society is in the process of taking one step back.
On a literal level, it would seem that any revolution would, contrary to iconic cultural reference, be televised. And CNN anchor Don Lemon will be am ped up to hyper-narrate it.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Brilliant jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron created that refrain in 1970. He wrote lyrically about frustration with police brutality. He noticed that while incidents of civil unrest were being transmitted on TV, the commercial offerings in between the news were from big corporations. He was inspired by the juxtaposition of broadcast images of racial strife and American consumerism.
The modern-day, reality-TV news reporting in the streets of Baltimore was a similar garbled ménage of mixed messages. Particularly annoying:
News correspondents whose hands were clenched in fists of rage at the Baltimore PD for attempting to restrict their reportorial coverage as the 10 p.m. street curfew went into effect.
“We can't do our jobs,” one on-the-ground reporter groused when ordered by police to step aside. The tragic irony: The news media was there to cover the boiled-over frustration of a deindustrialized community where there aren't any jobs to be had.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Here's what Scott-Heron said in the '90s about his timeless catchphrase and song: “[It's] about the first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and move … The thing that is going to change people is something that will never be able to be caught on film. It'll be something you see and all of a sudden realize, I'm on the wrong page. Or, I'm on the right page but on the wrong note.”
We're definitely not all looking at the same sheet music. The blatant racism of yesteryear has been replaced by implicit and institutionalized racism.
Implicit: Scientific studies show that good/moral people who say they don't judge others by the color of their skin may not think they're lying, but they're wrong. We all do.
Institutional: Black men go to jail for jaywalking in Ferguson. Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor, a white woman, gets a free pass after getting caught misappropriating two million dollars from a charitable foundation.
One person who dares rock the institution is State's Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby. Just 35 years old, and from a family steeped in a history of law enforcement, Mosby charged six cops in volved in the mercurial death of Freddie Gray.
“To the youth of this city:
I will seek justice on your behalf,” Mosby said late last week.
“This is a moment. This is your moment. Let's ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You're at the forefront of this cause. As young people, our time is now.”
She offers a glimmer of hope. In the here and now, however, we have a piece of technology that can take the guesswork out of these questionable police stops—body cameras. Baltimore doesn't have a policy requiring officers to wear them, but likely will soon.
San Diego already has a body-cam policy in place. More accountability can be established if officers hit the record button. That's what didn't happen before a recent encounter in the Midway District that resulted in a man being shot and killed by an officer. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is investigating. She needs to illuminate the details, and administer discipline.
For now, while we struggle to get on the same page, it appears that the revolution must be recorded. —Ron Donoho Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.