on being human in the news

dear readers,

a quote from today’s new york times, metro section:

“In 1998, Officer Joseph Locurto joined two firefighters on a float in a Labor Day parade held in Broad Channel, Queens. They forgot to bring along their brains. The three men, all white, put on Afro wigs and blackface. They tossed fried chicken and watermelon to onlookers. One dangled from the back of the float, mocking the way a black man in Texas had been dragged to his death three months earlier.”

with this, reporter clyde haberman takes an important step towards creating a historical context for the actions of detectives isonora, oliver, and cooper, all found innocent in the 50 round assassination of sean bell in south queens. the verdict was handed down last friday. today’s coverage of the case, five days later, has receded to the metro section. the angle is, “After Acquittal, Officers’ Careers Still in Limbo.”

“One pushes paper at a base for Staten Island detectives. Another makes phone calls to investigators whenever there’s a homicide in the Bronx. Four others perform administrative tasks at desks at various spots in Manhattan and Brooklyn. These are the lives of the six police officers involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell.”

humanization of both sides of an issue is crucial. nobody wins in a situation of state sanctioned brutality. that is, police brutality is brutal to the controlled and brutal to the controllers. but why is it that in the news, the new york times to be exact, some people are more humanized than others? take the case of a new york times reporter, barry bearak, recently imprisoned for four days in zimbabwe. his self authored article, sprawls across the sunday paper like a bikini in sunny central park.

why does it matter that bearak gets all this space to talk about his experience as a political prisoner? it matters because other people don’t.


in journalism, there are subtle ways to humanize or dehumanize a population. check out yesterday’s article on “Battle in Brooklyn, A Principal’s Rise and Fall: Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School.” the article on the khalil gibran international academy (kgia), an arabic immersion school, is ostensibly about former principal debbie almontaser’s struggle to keep this unique educational opportunity alive and well. but subtle media bias draws the reader to other matters, like:

is it safe to “let” muslims be full citizens and thus civicly engaged in this here ‘nited states of america?

subtle bias. as in, the first two full quotes in the article on almontaser are pulled from interviews with non-muslim leaders of the opposition to kgia.   two men who were instrumental in her “fall.”  two men who also lead the opposition to full citizenship for muslim-americans. one who is quoted as saying that domestic muslim civic engagement is at best a, “soft jihad.” these two are quoted liberally in the first ten paragraphs of the article. they are each awarded multiple sentences compared to one, four-word, partial quote from former principal almontaser. and, each time these two are quoted, they are given mad credetentials, links even, to their places of work.

subtle bias. as in looking through the eyes of person, walking in the shoes of their story versus reading a story about another, an unknown other.


[april 25, 2008, friday night, south queens, sean bell rally and verdict protest]

the altar marking where sean bell was shot, on liverpool between 94th and 95th street, is aglow with candles, homemade signs, and masking tape murals adorned on the wall/frames/this stalled/moment of justice.

(photo, joshua lott, reuters)

south queens. where motorcycle crews death defy into the hood night, ghetto caballeros, reared up on the hind legs of their metallic horses. south queens. where the nearest train station is an air train stop. south queens. where the malcolm x grassroots movement led a core contingent through project playgrounds, snake alive church talking corners, closed for the day glass libraries, helicopter incessantly searching above marchers pounding feet.

“don’t tell our children to fuck the police,” said a tenants council president, emerging from the lively crowd in her tenement plaza, “you don’t have to live here, you get to go home, our children have to live here.” and deference to the police is one way to stay alive longer.

stay tuned for more,


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