The news is giving us a distorted picture of reality. It is a picture which plays on fear, with a constant message behind every word – you are powerless. This couldn’t be clearer after the coverage of Johannes Mehserle’s trial and the demonstration in Oakland following the verdict.
In the weeks leading up to the trial, every local corporate media outlet discussed whether there would be a massive riot. They ran front-page articles about the police mobilization, the boarded up shops, and the city bracing for chaos. What was the effect? Many people who were angry about the verdict and wanted to voice their feelings were afraid to protest, fearing to be confronted by violent police or swept up in a riot. Even so, when the verdict was announced on July 8th over 1,000 people gathered in Downtown Oakland. People demonstrated that the injustice of the Mehserle trial was unacceptable.
How did the papers and TV news stations report this day’s events? If they mentioned the demonstration, it was only very briefly. They chose to focus on what came later. After the demonstration, when less than 200 people were left, some trash cans were set on fire, and a Foot Locker was broken into. Rather than report the main demonstration against the injustice of the verdict, the media chose to focus on the event that resembled what they had predicted. How many times have we seen that clip of the Foot Locker being broken into? Apparently stolen shoes are more important than the life of Oscar Grant and the injustice of the so-called justice system.
And what does the media tell us about who was involved in the demonstrations? The media repeats over and over that it was outsiders who came to Oakland to stir up trouble. Who is an outsider? Those who aren’t part of Oscar Grant’s family? Those who aren’t from Oakland? Oscar Grant was from San Leandro, so would that make him an outsider? Nobody wants to see their town smashed up, but that doesn’t mean that you have to live in Oakland to demonstrate against this verdict. Police brutality isn’t just a problem in Oakland.
The picture painted by the media is totally false. The fact that a few shoes were stolen is hardly the main story. The main story is that a cop murdered someone in front of hundreds of people and got away with a light sentence. And Oscar Grant was only one of hundreds of young people who are murdered by the police in the United States every year. The fact that his murder was caught on camera and witnessed by so many people made his death a symbol for all the others who have been killed and will be killed by police. When Mehserle was let off the hook with a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, people came together in the city where it happened to protest this gross injustice. That’s the real story, everything else is a diversion.
So why can’t the media report what actually happened? Because their reality is not the same as ours. Television and print media are owned and controlled by only six major corporations. Companies like General Electric, AOL Time Warner and Viacom are worth billions of dollars with financial links to everything from banking and investment to military technology.
Is it any surprise that the media reports the news in a way that makes us feel powerless? They are the ones who profit every day from the work we do. The last thing they want is to show us our own power because we might start to use it in our own interests. Our reality is not theirs and their stories aren’t the ones we should listen to.