Black Lives Matter, as a decentralized, increasingly global group, is largely misunderstood due to both the news media’s distorted portrayal of them and the movement’s inability to truly safeguard its narrative and perception in the world. Instead of Black Lives Matter activists being the prolific storytellers, the news media tells their story for them, and does so without context or, in many cases, accuracy. In fact, more often than not, the news media labels any black or brown protester responding to police violence as Black Lives Matter, and in the cases where they aren’t do so, the narrative is propagated by others and usually goes without correction from the Fourth Estate.
As to why the news media does this, one could assume it’s for click-bait: headlines with ‘Black Lives Matter’ have become very popular, if for no other reason than because dissenters, which are plentiful, are looking for material to criticize and demonize. But the impact of journalists mis-attributing bad actions to an advocacy group has implications that reach far beyond the economics of media. Such an error causes members of society to form negatives attitudes towards a group and some could even begin to support punitive approaches to quash them.
A real-time example of how inaccurate reporting impacts community and attitudes can be seen in the armed white supremacists who on Sunday protested outside the office of the Houston NAACP demanding the civil rights group condemn the rioting by Black Lives Matter in Milwaukee following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith. However, the riots, which resulted in several burnt businesses, weren’t orchestrated by an official Black Lives Mater chapter but rather random individuals who saw the unrest as a perfect time to cause chaos and violence. The egregious behavior exhibited by those in Milwaukee – searching out white people in order to inflict bodily harm on them – is indefensible and should be condemned; but it also matters who was actually committing the violence. It’s become a tool of the trade for the news media to call any black body engaging in civil disobedience as a result of fatal officer-involved shootings a Black Lives Matter protester; it may streamline work, but it can also, depending on the actions of those protesters, defame a legitimate movement.
The roughly 20 white supremacist who, with Confederate flags and White Lives Matter signs, gathered on Wheeler Ave in Houston’s Third Ward also took umbrage with what they perceive is Black Lives Matter’s role in the death of five police officers in Dallas. But that claim, when juxtaposed with the facts of that incident, makes very little sense, given that the late killer of those officers, Mr. Micah Johnson, only said that he “was upset by Black Lives Matter,” not inspired or radicalized by them – it’s more plausible that Mr. Johnson, who had been in the Army Reserve since 2009 but deployed to Afghanistan in November of 2013 and stayed until June of 2014, was radicalized by combat.
Yet in the aftermath of the killing, the narrative of Black Lives Matter as a terrorist group once again surfaced and the mainstream media either exacerbated that mis-perception or remained indifferent to it, allowing instead for black pundits to, with limited time, defend the movement on-air. The news media didn’t scrutinize or aim to interpret what Mr. Johnson might have meant when he claimed to be “upset with Black Lives Matter.” It could’ve been quite possible that Mr. Johnson, age 25 at the time of death, held the same contempt for the movement as he did for the white police officers he wanted to kill.
The white supremacists targeting Houston’s NAACP are rooting their actions in mis-perception. Nothing they’re claiming is true, but everything they’re spouting has once been said on the news. In my opinion, the news media should exist to do more than just communicate; it should aim to clear up and mitigate mis-communications, and it certainly shouldn’t instigate or initiate them.
Again, to reiterate, neither act which the white supremacists in Houston are enraged about had any direct affiliation to Black Lives Matter. And even if there was a loose affiliation, like for example those causing chaos had an affinity for the movement, it would be like blaming WWE Chairman Mr. Vince McMahon for a murder committed by a wrestling fan who claims to be apart of the WWE Universe.
Facts and context matter, especially when dealing with important social issues. So, for the sake of peace, the news media should get it’s sh*t together and stop enabling the further dividing of America.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photos courtesy of the author.