Coleman Lowndes

Author ››› Coleman Lowndes
  • VIDEO: How The Media Turns Black Rage Into The Enemy

    Media Images Of Violence Distracted From A History Of Disenfranchisement And Structural Racism In Baltimore

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    It’s been a year since the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody. Gray’s death sparked major protests from local residents and activists, but it wasn’t until some of those protests turned violent that Baltimore captured the attention of national news networks.

    In the days that followed, media images of the events in Baltimore fixated on scenes of violence, looting, and property damage, drawing criticism from local residents who rejected what they saw as sensationalized and misleading media coverage.

    One of those residents is Lawrence Grandpre, the Assistant Director of Research and Public Policy at Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle -- a grassroots think tank that advances the public policy interests of Black people in Baltimore. Talking to Media Matters, Grandpre criticized corporate media’s tendency to highlight the most sensational images during events like the Baltimore protests.

    “You have a kind of race-to-the-bottom in terms of corporate media looking for the most spectacular incidences of violence, the biggest names, and what they think will drive the media cycle forward in their favor,” Grandpre explains. “In a corporate media environment, the spectacle drives views, drives retweets, and thus drives profits.”

    That focus on sensationalized images comes at a cost. Images of violence and property damage distracted viewers from understanding the long-term problems in Baltimore that fueled the outrage over Gray’s death, making it difficult for audiences to fully grasp what was motivating protesters.

    “The reality is the frustration you saw in April of 2015 wasn’t just about Freddie Gray,” says Grandpre. “It was about a system that had left a large chunk of Baltimore politically abandoned in terms of people who genuinely represent their interests and structurally in the line-of-fire for systemic poverty, hyper policing, and structural racism.”

    Without understanding the history of inequality and disenfranchisement in Baltimore, news viewers were more likely to see images of violence and property damage and conclude that protesters were acting irrationally.  And that made it easier for commentators on major news networks to dismiss the protesters as “thugs” and “criminals.”

    “An audience that doesn’t know Baltimore will just assume these are irrational young people all over the city who are taking out their anger on the streets,” says Grandpre.  “When you see black folk as an irrational threat, or responding in ways that are irrational, all you need to do to assuage your fear is put them down, either by quelling the riot or taking violence against those people. And that prevents you from actually interrogating the structural conditions which produced that rage.”

    That depiction of black protesters as irrational, dangerous, and out-of-control helped turn public opinion against protesters, making it less likely that audiences would hear protesters’ grievances as legitimate or credible. And Grandpre argues those kinds of images play on deeply ingrained fears about black rage.

    “In this country, there are certain psychological tropes that relate to blackness that the media is going to exploit in these incidences. In reality, there are fears in Baltimore not just of urban revolts going back to the 60s, but really honestly slave revolts going all the way back to Nat Turner in the 19th century. So the idea of black people having these types of uprising produces this deep fear within the collective psyche of many in America, in terms of ‘there’s this black rage that threatens to consume this country that folks have built up, could that black rage be turned on to me and my family?’”

    The media’s focus on sensationalized depictions of violence shaped how audiences imaged a resolution to the crisis in Baltimore. Just as images of violent protests came to define the “problem” in Baltimore, ending that violence became the “solution,” so news networks fixated on whether protesters would disperse rather than asking if the conditions that had brought the protesters onto the streets in the first place had changed.

    “We have this discourse and representations that are strategically designed to make it so that the discussions about changing conditions in society that could actually hurt the material interests of many of the folks who are in power, are not centered in political discourse,” Grandpre explains. “Instead what’s centered is the threat, the spectacle, and can we have a bonding moment with the reestablishing of security. But that reestablishing of security is really just reestablishing the status quo which was never secure when you’re talking about black people in places like Baltimore.”

  • VIDEO: Here's The Truth About The Anti-LGBT "Bathroom Predator" Myth

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    North Carolina is the first state in the country to pass a law aimed at broadly controlling transgender people’s access to public restrooms. Proponents of the law claim it’s needed to prevent sexual predators from sneaking into women’s bathrooms by dressing up as women and pretending to be transgender.

    That “bathroom predator” talking point is a myth. Law enforcement experts and people who work with victims of sexual assault have called it “beyond specious” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” There have been zero proven incidents in the more than 17 states and 200 cities where transgender people are currently protected from discrimination and allowed to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

    But the “bathroom predator” myth has dominated news coverage of the fight for transgender equality. Reporters repeat the talking point without debunking it, so viewers are left thinking that LGBT nondiscrimination protections might lead to sexual assault.

    Chase Strangio, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized news networks’ uncritical repetition of the “bathroom predator” talking point, telling Media Matters:

    Journalists who talk about this as two co-equal sides are essentially letting proponents of these talking points get away with mythic narratives about trans predators or non-trans predators having access to bathrooms and locker rooms. And that story is incredibly damaging and really undermines efforts to protect trans people and the whole LGBT community.

    […]

    When the media doesn’t point out that the bathroom talking points are complete bullshit, what they’re doing is participating in a falsehood that allows trans people to be associated with intrusions into privacy, with violence, and with harm to other people. The reality is none of these things are true.

    Instead of focusing on mythic stories about bathroom predators, news networks should ask how “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s will be enforced. As Strangio explained, these laws “would open the door to major intrusions into people’s privacy and people’s medical information, … allow[ing] for policing of people’s gender every time they walk into a restroom.”

    Republican politicians are using imaginary horror stories about bathroom predators to pass creepy, invasive laws policing the gender of anyone who goes to the bathroom in a public place. That’s the story media outlets should be telling when covering “bathroom bills” like North Carolina's.

    Video by Coleman Lowndes and Carlos Maza.