The American news media, routinely barraged with potshots from the President, is a predictable apparatus, I’ve come to find. On Tuesday evening, when Mr. Donald J. Trump managed to complete his speech to Congress without bragging about his Electoral College victory or complaining about the news media, I was confident that his polished and poised demeanor – a 180 from what we have seen that usually takes to the lectern – would dominate the news cycle to the degree where more important stories would be stifled.
All Mr. Trump, all the time, has increasingly become the norm in the media business since his debut as a presidential candidate. And once sworn in as President, Mr. Trump, and seemingly him alone, owns the spotlight though his peers and citizens responding to him via protests are likely to garner a glare. This formula – either fawning over or maligning Mr. Trump in the news ad nasueum – while it may be good for business, it is bad in the context of representation. A variety of important issues, where communities stand prepared to weigh in on, become an afterthought, or are given no thought at all.
A year ago, American policing, and how the Black Lives Matter movement was forcing it to evolve dominated the news cycle, whereas today people question what happened to raucous grassroots cohorts that were among the biggest threats to law enforcement’s status quo.
Part of the answer is that the movement has, indeed, quieted, though by no means stopped working, and the other part is that the news media has another shiny new object to focus its pens and lens.
Meaningful strides are being made in American law enforcement –thanks to both the concerns voiced loudly and consistently by citizens and the response to them from the U.S. Department of Justice – but the newly appointed Attorney General, billed by his opposers as an anti-civil rights racist, threatens that pattern with his announcement on Tuesday that the agency he leads – which when governed by the Obama administration pursued a police reform agenda, albeit not a radical, anti-white supremacy one – would pullback from monitoring troubled police departments and instead support them in their efforts to crack down on crime.
“I’m not surprised this happened… Trump told you he was going to be pro-law enforcement,” said Mr. Asa Khalif of the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter. “This should be a wake-up call; we have an obligation, as a movement, to rejuvenate ourselves and get on top of this.”
In New Jersey, the news of police scrutiny evaporating also came as no surprise to Mr. Walter Hudson of the National Awareness Alliance, a civil rights organization that in recent years has pursed justice for several black men killed by police in controversial shootings.
“When it came to Sessions, most of us had a clue what he was going to do… he’s not going to enforce checks and balances with police departments,” Mr. Hudson told me Wednesday morning by phone.
People were absolutely clued in on, though not certain of, the agenda regarding police which the DOJ, and more broadly the Trump administration, would pursue.
In January, in Philadelphia, before the inauguration, when a snippet of the DOJ’s final report on the Philadelphia Police Department was introduced to the news media, reporters peppered Mr. Ron Davis, then the Director of the C.O.P.S Office under the DOJ, about the future of consent decrees – agreements the agency makes with severely flawed police departments to improve the institution – and police reform initiatives; Mr. Davis withheld his opinion but said once he’s a private citizen, and if he sees things moving in the wrong direction, he’ll share his concerns.
Mr. Sessions in his comments on Tuesday implied that scrutiny of police departments undermined the effectiveness of officers on the street. He said that he wants to “help police departments get better” and that monitoring them from afar wasn’t having an impact on driving down crime, despite many news media outlets, including The New York Times, noting that crime rates nationwide remain near historic lows.
Noticeably absent from Mr. Sessions’ remarks was how the monitoring aimed to mitigate police brutality and improve police-community relations. As is the tone offered from Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions appears obsessed with law-and-order; or in other words, near sovereignty for police departments.
This truth should certainly be a galvanizing moment for Black Lives Matter and their supporters, but one, too, for the media. Rolling back the clock, which what Mr. Sessions wants to do, is certainly a bigger story than the broken clock, which is Mr. Trump, showing the appropriate facade at a moment in time.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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