The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power.
— Malcolm X, The Power of Media (1964)
… The cops be trying to pop and lock me/
They cocky, plus they mentality is Nazi/
The way they treat blacks, I wanna snap like paparazzi/
— Hip-Hop artist Common, Real People, Be (2005)
… The media be crucifying brothers severely/
— Tupac, “Blasphemy,” The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Only in a failed media state is an innocent peace-maker, with a knee to his head and palms pressed upon his back, deemed the perpetrator of his own death in an execution. This is the story of Oscar Grant III – the murdered 21-yr-old Oakland father. In a rush to reverse the graphic images, caught on tape, the mainstream media, and its companions, have sought to diminish the credibility of Mr. Grant, and exonerate, before legal trial, Officer Johannes Mehserle of all wrongdoing in the death of Oscar Grant.
Borrowing predictable moves from the old playbook, CNN, MSNBC and FOX News (and their many affiliated siblings) have all reported that Oscar Grant supposedly had a (police) record, and thus, somehow – logic be damned! – culpable in his own death. Those who payed keen attention during the Sean Bell fiasco are well aware of this trend. As Sean Bell’s precious body was riddled by the 50 bullets of four New York police officers on duty that November night (the eve of his wedding), and the inexcusable homicide of Bell was sentenced justly in the court of public opinion, mainstream media channels, with unseemly haste, were swift in reminding viewers that Sean Bell, and his counterparts, possessed a criminal record. It’s a rehashed move to lessen the humanity of the unjustifiably murdered, and diminish the extent of criminality – how logical.
Soon after commercial news channels found the shooting of Oscar Grant too popular to disregard (with over a million hits on YouTube, of mind-gripping cell-phone documentaries of the incident), it was no shocker to see them (our dependable news-source) report of the death-threats Officer Mehserle has received, ever since (Death threats, who could imagine?). Noting how Mehserle has been forced to take a paid-leave (poor him), move twice to different residential locations, and receive police protection, it became a sort of chorus, sang by pundits who find no cause of concern in the unprovoked shooting of an unarmed Black man, and received ample airplay on cable, national and local news outlets. Defending the officer’s actions, they have helped circulate the laughable (though, not that funny) report – 6 days after Grant’s death – that he (a two-year veteran of the transit agency), in fact, confused his taser for a gun.
The mainstream channels have deemed Oscar Grant’s behavior “threatening” to the officers who exercised full control over his handcuffed, subdued body. They have justified his death with unsubstantiated (and erroneous) reports of his participation in the scuffle, which ultimately ended his life. Oakland District 6 Council member, Desley Brooks, took note of this trend in a press-conference on Wednesday, January 7th 2009: “We [the community) want to be very clear to you, the media. We would not tolerate you criminalizing the victim, and making the suspect somehow victimized. The news that is being portrayed today is that this poor officer, who executed a father who begged for his life, that he is in protective custody. My question is, ‘Who was there to protect Oscar Grant, when he was shot?’”
Indeed, the “protect and serve” force was less interested in being forthright about the shooting, and waited several days, similar to the MSNBC-Imus incident, to see if it would ever yield any traction. As told by citizen-journalists across the country, the officers involved in the execution of Oscar Grant confiscated all cell-phones and video cameras thought to contain documentary of the shooting – purportedly for “evidence”-gathering purposes. The mainstream media has failed to report that.
What is certainly clear from this ordeal, is that mainstream media – which insists we live in a “post-racial” era – is not only a disseminator of untruths and prevarication, but also operates antithetically to the interests of everyday people. The mainstream press corps has failed to – just as in the cases of Abner Louima, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Baron “Scooter” Pikes, Ronnie White, Kathryn Johnston, Michael Stewart, Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton Jr., etc. – keep track of the lovely widow, and four-year-old daughter of Oscar Grant. Dead Prez was right: “You can’t fool all the people all of the time/ But if you fool the right ones, then the rest will fall behind/ … For your TV screen, is telling lies to your vision.”