Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Front Page

I'm not going to show you the front page of my local newspaper.  I wish I could, but that would only compound the crime of it.  Let me see if I can describe it instead.

If, like me, you took your dog out for a walk on this misty Sunday morning and then picked the paper from your yard on your way back in, you might have thought you were picking up the latest issue of Just Busted, a local rag sold in drugstores that makes its money from providing photographs of all of the recent arrests in the city.

For on that front page, right above the fold, are thirty-two photographs of people who have been arrested above the headline, "The Goal Is Simple: Break Crack's Back."

All of the people in the photographs are men.  All of them are black.  All of them are between the ages of 19 and 37.

The article itself presents a pretty interesting balance of perspectives--a bit of backstory about how wire taps led to the arrests, about the nature of the men arrested in terms of their collective arrest records, as well quoted comments from the youngest of the arrestees, from one of the defense attorneys, and from a former gang member who is now working to get men out of gangs.

But the photographs?  Whatever the intention of the decision to create a massive Hollywood Squares of young African-American criminals, I would suggest that it has accidentally accomplished at least all of the following:

1.  It reinforces a stereotype of young, black men being worthy of our fear, since these men have been designated as the 32 "most dangerous" men in Chattanooga and the surrounding area.

2.  It parades an entire race out for public denigration.  When is the last time 32 African-Americans appeared in the entire first section, in the entire first two sections of this newspaper?  I don't include the third section, because by the time we reach the sports, we will likely see some African-Americans.

3. It shows us the mirror of our public shame, for this is our city and these our citizens, and whatever these men have done, they certainly did not enter this life with the goal of becoming crack dealers.

What's the big deal?  Is it the sheer number of criminals, you ask?  Is it their monochromatic nature?  Is it the appeal to our prurient interests in order to sell newspapers?  Is it the stark reminder that, as someone said today, nothing has really changed since 1865 in cities like this all over the country, North and South?  Is it what is (or isn't) in those 64 eyes that stare at us from the page, eyes of resignation, hate, indifference, and emptiness?

Hammer at my liberal sensibilities all you like--that does not let any of us off the hook.  We have not done what we could.  And, agree or not, the photographs prove it.

2 comments:

troutking said...

Sadly, we didn't lose the war on poverty. We surrendered.

Anonymous said...

"That's what's wrong with this city. It don't take no genius to know what the problem is." -- Overheard from an elderly person at Panera

I really want to give the paper the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe they did it to make us stare at that "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror." I want to believe they did it because we -- this city, its citizens -- gets the cover it deserves. I want to believe the paper was damning us with our own actions and priorities.

But I've seen too much of what motivates this paper. I've seen how much money and "generate controversy" trumps journalistic integrity ("You can't have integrity if you're out of business," they'd say). And I've heard an old person in Panera say what people all over this town said this morning when they saw the paper.

Damn crack. Damn poverty. Damn blaming this on something as simple and distracting as skin color. Damn how we handle criminals in this country. Damn the paper. Damn us.