It is has been forever and a day since any of us have posted anything here. One of the more unfortunate aspects of the development of news coverage is what many have called the “echo chamber”. It is the Fox News and MSNBC of the blog world. My wife and I went to a play at the Alley Theatre earlier this Spring and one of the actors articulated it about as well as anyone. He mentioned that now I could go somewhere to reinfornce what I already believe. Isn’t that the way it always is? However, every major news story has many layers and those layers are kind of like an onion. The deeper you get into it the more messy it becomes and it can leave you with some really bated breath.
The Ferguson, Missouri story (Michael Brown shooting) is becoming more and more like that. As I watch the story unfold I am left with the chilling fact that are many stories unfolding here. Depending on your particularl political perspective, you might focus on one or the other. As a school teacher, one of my tasks is helping students prepare for the world they are about to enter. It’s overwhelming when you consider the increasingly complex nature of information gathering. It seems all information these days is rife with bias. It can seem impossible to sort through it all.
Someone in the Ferguson Police Department shot and killed the 18 year old Michael Brown. These are the facts in the case and they are undisputed. From there, it is impossible to know exactly what happened that day. The officers claim that the boy was assaulting them and therefore the shooting was justified. Witnesses claim that the boy wasn’t assaulting them at all and was actually attempting to surrender. You’ll excuse me if I am skeptical of both accounts. I’ve talked about issue framing before in these pages and both sides are definitely doing their fair share of that. In parlance, we can call issue framing the production of a narrative. Each side wants to forward a story. Depending on your particular perspective and personal life experience, you will find one narrative more persuasive than the next.
The Michael Brown narrative is one of continued racism in this country. It harkens back to Trayvon Martin and how his killer (remember, I’m forwarding the narrative here) managed to escape justice. It harkens back a generation or more when lynchings were much too common. It involves the use of terms like “driving while black” and “walking while black.” Just in the Chronicle today, they listed a number of police related deaths of minorities. All of these deaths were not completely insidious, but there were points of contention on all of them.
If I could get my students to understand anything it is that those that are dedicated to a particular narrative will often stretch the rules somewhat to forward that narrative. One “dedicated” hacker managed to hack into the Ferguson’s Police Chief’s wife’s facebook page and post some very inflammatory remarks. See, they’re racist. We have proof. Okay, it is proof we had to manufacture, but you know they believe it right? Others have used more subtle methods of manipulated persuaasion. A post on twitter last night showed the breakdown of pullovers, searches, and arrests in Ferguson in 2013. Of course, it was wildly skewed towards African-Americans. See, theyr’re racists. I have proof.
The problem with that is that the person that presented those statistics also did not present to us any other data about Ferguson. According to the 2010 census, Ferguson was 67.4 percent African American, 29.3 percent white, and 3.3 percent other. So, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the majority of arrests, searches, and pull overs would be African American? Mind you, the numbers were considerably more skewed than that, but it is safe to say that there are a number of factors that we just aren’t sure about.
The other predominant narrative is the one we might call “the silent majority” narrative. Those unfamiliar with history would be interested to know that this narrative is the one used by Richard Nixon. It painted the Vietnam War demonstrators as lawless thugs that did not represent the average everyday American. Two local Houston students illustrated how this narrative works on Twitter when they released pictures of themselves looking like thugs and pictures of themselves in their Sunday best (so to speak). The news media has been all too willing to oblige this narrative by showing off Michael Brown as if he were some kind of notorious gangster.
Of course, I didn’t know Michael Brown, so I am not going to comment on how close or how far that comes from describing the boy. The unfortunate thing is that some folks in Ferguson are wittingly or unwittingly feeding this narrative with their behavior after the fact. Nothing says that I am good and pissed about racial inequality like stealing a hair weave or any other asundry items on my shopping list. Does that describe the majority of those protesting? Of course it doesn’t, but all it takes is a few rotten souls to exploit the narrative. Exactly what is the narrative we are talking about here? The narrative is one of justification. Of course, the police were justified in shooting the boy. After all, he was a thug. Of course, crime statistics in Ferguson are skewed, it’s because African Americans commit more crimes than Anglo-Saxon people do.
The difficulty here is that both narratives are true and false at the same time. Each has kernels of truth that you can latch onto if you so desire. Each has aspects that will make your blood boil as well. The problem in today’s society is that there are fewer and fewer arbiters of facts. There are fewer Walter Kronkite and Edward R. Murrows to sift through the bull honkey and just deliver you the news. Almost everyone has an angle and almost everyone is willing to skirt the truth just a little to forward their own narrative. So, we have to see through the manipulation to arrive at something resembling the truth. Unfortunately, there are many among us that are just too lazy to do that.