I’m Angie Coiro, and this is In Deep. In a moment you’ll hear this week’s conversation at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park: an examination of the causes, severity, and the media coverage of the drought in the American West. But first, some observations on this week’s news.
Two stories have dominated the headlines for days: the heartbreaking earthquake in Nepal, and the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Both have left strife and pain in their wake. In Kathmandu and the surrounding region, as many as fifteen thousand people may be dead. More are homeless. Almost a week after the quake, some victims are still without food, water, or first aid.
Meanwhile, anger at the death of yet another young black man at the hands of police has spilled over from Baltimore into city streets across the US – fires burning, buildings looted, rocks pounding into windows, protestors, and cops.
One iconic picture is already a piece of history: teenager Michael Singleton pulled from the protest and beaten into submission by Toya Graham, his mother, determined to keep him out of the fray. She’s been lauded. She’s been pilloried. She’s an emblem of the fractured view Americans have of the protests and protestors. They’re hoodlums. They’re activists. They’re social justice warriors. They’re thugs.
These two stories seem a world apart: one case of Mother Nature vs humanity, another pitting humans against each other. Here’s the comparison that matters most: both were predictable. One was entirely in the hands of man to prevent.
Five years ago, the Global Post warned that Nepal was overdue for a disastrous earthquake. The article pointed to numerous, crisscrossed tectonic fractures under a land with burgeoning population and only a passing acquaintance with building codes. This week’s quake was not a surprise. But poverty and weak code enforcement limited what the residents could do about it. The faults of Nature vs. the faults of man: nature wins.
Mother Nature has no real hand in the pathetically endless cycle of war between black communities and police in America. It’s human nature: human faults.
• A refusal to address poverty;
• the prioritizing of profits over justice;
• a racism so ingrained that half of America can’t even see it.
THAT’s what makes it so predictable: because it keeps happening, and nothing changes. Nothing changes in part because too many people can’t see it as important. Look at the coverage of the Baltimore protests: with buildings aflame, with crowds, with chaos – CNN couldn’t even break away from its coverage of the annual “nerd prom” – the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where the professionals once charged with the public trust – the writers, photographers, reporters whose job was to watch the politicians, to keep them honest – were busy being buddies with their former targets – were busy being feted and fed, watered and wheedled into submission. Why break away from something so pretty, so fun, to show the ugly realities of life in American streets. It’s a terrible echo of the bizarre American media silence that met the worldwide protests against the war in Iraq. Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Chicago – record numbers of people in the streets, people of all types, all skin colors, all classes, all ages. And barely a peep in the US press. Thus did CNN this week expose its priorities: carousing of the elite, rather than the increasingly grim life of those on the losing end of the game.
America on its face is a representative democracy, a society where upward mobility is promised to anyone who works hard enough, where the policeman is our friend, where the press is the voice of the people in the face of power.
What we are is such a fragmented mess of need and want and justice and oppression and riches unimaginable and complicity, that – just like Nepal – anyone paying attention could have seen this coming – CAN see this coming, can predict with ease that more names will be added to those of Tamir Rice; Michael Brown; Eric Garner; Walter Scott; and on and on. And the shame is ours, ALL of ours. If this were a matter of tectonic plates – faceless, senseless rock over magma – there’s only so much humanity can do. But the ongoing refusal of sensate beings to confront, examine, and fix our societal ills – that’s our fault. All our fault.
If you’d like to read some of the background for this editorial, check out “First comes the Disinformation” on Digby’s Hullaballoo, and Will Bunch’s “The Night the News Died” on philly.com. For In Deep, I’m Angie Coiro.