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Police run feel-good PR campaign while criminalizing Black August

August 11, 2016

by Davey D

George Jackson Black August posterLast week I was alerted to an inflammatory story from Bay Area ABC news reporter Dan Noyes that basically sought to disparage the Black August commemorations. The story noted that “police sources” had leaked an FBI bulletin to him stating that prison guards and police were going to be attacked by members of the Black Guerilla Family in commemoration of Black August. Many found the allegations to be outlandish.

For those who are unaware, Black August is a month that is held to high esteem by many in the Black community who celebrate the resistance movements that have long been a part of our history for the past 300 years. It also seeks to bring attention to political prisoners here in the U.S. and calls for them to be set free.

This Black August, as in the past, the organizing committees have called for folks to fast and reflect, but according to this ABC report there is a call for killing police. To get an in-depth history of Black August, please read the following articles from

  • Malcolm X Grassroots Movement –> HERE
  • Mama Ayanna Mashama –> HERE.

In addition to smashing on Black August, this ABC news story cited the SF Bay View newspaper and basically accused it of being a contributing source of tensions between inmates and law enforcement because of articles it ran pointing out that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had responsibility for last year’s tragic killing of longtime prisoner and freedom fighter Hugo Pinell.

SF Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff noted that such accusations put the lives of all Black people in danger, especially if they protest or express disdain about police brutality. The story also undermines the work the SF Bay View does, which includes among other things facilitating letter writing campaigns to political prisoners, publishing works of art, poems and short stories in their popular Behind Enemy Lines series from those who are incarcerated and shining light on controversial cases.

On Nov. 29, 1971, three months after the Aug. 21, 1971, assassination of George Jackson on the San Quentin yard, The Black Panther newspaper published this story, noting, “Comrade George Jackson and Comrade Hugo Pinell, one Black and one Latino, were the living examples of the unity that can and must exist among the prisoner class.” On Aug. 12, 2015, Hugo Pinell was assassinated on the New Folsom yard.

On Nov. 29, 1971, three months after the Aug. 21, 1971, assassination of George Jackson on the San Quentin yard, The Black Panther newspaper published this story, noting, “Comrade George Jackson and Comrade Hugo Pinell, one Black and one Latino, were the living examples of the unity that can and must exist among the prisoner class,” adding that now that George had been assassinated, “Their plans to slaughter Hugo Pinell are in full swing.” On Aug. 12, 2015, Hugo Pinell was assassinated on the New Folsom yard.

The Bay View has been an important lifeline between those locked up and the community at large. Ratcliff sent a letter to Dan Noyes and ABC asking to see this leaked bulletin, but as of the time of this writing one has yet to be presented. You can read the ABC news story –> HERE.

Police feel-good stories: Do they help heal and rebuild trust?

The decision by ABC to run this story where they are essentially mouthpieces for police brass speaks to a larger issue in play, the cozy relationship between corporate media and police departments.

Here’s a couple of things that are going on right now that all should know. First, we have two nationwide PR campaigns. One campaign is designed to bolster the image of beleaguered police departments. Folks may have noticed in recent weeks a slew of feel-good news stories on local news outlets all over the country, where we are presented with images highlighting the police doing “nice” things for the community.

The decision by ABC to run this story where they are essentially mouthpieces for police brass speaks to a larger issue in play, the cozy relationship between corporate media and police departments.

The stories range from police officers dancing with kids to holding BBQs to improve community relations to officers doing heroic things like buying shoes and clothing for the homeless to helping abused single mothers find housing to officers pulling people over to give them ice cream cones. How can one be mad?

The stories of police doing good deeds are endless, with many of us in media seeing a marked increase on these types of stories being pitched. The pitches are accompanied with requests to interview retired police officers and law enforcement experts eager to provide a counternarrative to the onslaught of troubling stories of police terrorism, many which have been caught on tape, unjustified killings of unarmed individuals and racial and sexual harassment scandals attached to numerous police departments.

A San Diego cop dances the Whip Nae Nae with the kids “to help community relations.”

A San Diego cop dances the Whip Nae Nae with the kids “to help community relations.”

For some, the highlighting of police doing nice things is a good thing. It’s reassurance that things aren’t as bad as they seem. It’s a reassurance that police violence is an aberration with a few bad apples as the cause vs. being something systemic. The feel-good stories enhance the long held narrative that police are fair and just – stern but friendly folks stationed in our community to protect and serve.

For many others, such stories have not erased the scars of brutality many have suffered or witnessed. If anything, the stories come across as hurtful because they are seen as an attempt to sanitize egregious transgressions committed by police officers where there has been little or no accountability, punishment and even admission of wrong doings.

Time will tell if these feel-good stories are genuine attempts by police to bridge a gap, heal shattered communities and rebuild trust or if they are shallow PR moves attached to a larger agenda where police look good on the front end while doing dirt on the back.

'Black Labs Matter' 'All Labs Matter' meme

This backhand slap at Black Lives Matter was published in a newsletter from the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

For example, the video of a good-natured police officer delivering ice cream to a woman he pulled over stands in sharp contrast to the mean-spirited, disingenuous tone deaf photo and article in San Francisco’s police union newsletter, where they use two dogs to extol the virtues of All Lives Matter over their deliberately distorted and antagonistic view of the Black Lives Matter movement. You can read about that –> HERE.

Such hostile rhetoric and articles by police outlets like the one here in San Francisco do very little to put folks at ease, especially knowing that there have been more than a dozen officers connected to a hateful racist text scandal where no one was fired or the fact that officers got off scott free in the execution-style killings of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto and, most recently, Jessica Williams.

The Jeckyl and Hyde nature of police, where they do a nice PR campaign while pummeling citizens when the cameras are off, can best be illustrated with the nationwide attention that was given to SFPD a couple of years ago when they help turn San Francisco into Gotham City for a young cancer survivor named Miles Scott, affectionately known as Batkid.

The city of San Francisco was shut down and the red carpet rolled out as thousands came out to witness staged events where Batkid fought crime alongside SFPD officers who played key roles. At the end of the day there wasn’t a dry eye in the city. People fell in love with Batkid. The image of SFPD was boosted and former Police Chief Greg Suhr was deemed a hero.

D’Paris “DJ” Williams was brutally beaten by police for briefly riding his bike on the sidewalk on the same day SFPD was being celebrated for helping a cancer survivor named Batkid.

D’Paris “DJ” Williams was brutally beaten by police for briefly riding his bike on the sidewalk on the same day SFPD was being celebrated for helping a cancer survivor named Batkid.

While the eyes of the nation focused on Batkid and the “heroic” efforts of SFPD, what didn’t get caught on camera that day less than a mile away from City Hall, where the celebration took place, was the sieging of a neighborhood and the brutal beatings by SFPD of residents living in Valencia Gardens.

What sparked the incident was 20-year-old college student D’Paris Charles Williams, aka DJ, who had just returned from the Batkid event. He rode his bike on the sidewalk from the street to the front door of his home when he was accosted by an undercover officer who didn’t identify himself but demanded DJ come over to him as he entered his home.

Williams was dragged from his home and beaten badly as other residents not sure who was attacking Williams got involved and they too were beaten by plain clothes and uniformed officers arriving on the scene.

Williams was arrested for riding his bike on a public sidewalk and resisting arrest. The charges were later dropped but set off a citywide Taking a Stand for SF campaign, where Black, Brown and poor residents of SF brought attention to the onslaught of police brutality incidents that often go unpunished and hidden behind the city’s progressive and social justice image. You can read about that incident –> HERE.

This sexual predator with a badge illustrates the East Bay Express story, “Badge of Dishonor,” on the police sex crime scandal. – Art: Roxanne Pasibe

This sexual predator with a badge illustrates the East Bay Express story, “Badge of Dishonor,” on the police sex crime scandal. – Art: Roxanne Pasibe

The feel-good police PR stories fall flat when you have more than 30 cops in what major news outlets euphemistically call a “sex scandal” involving officers “sleeping” with a “sex worker” when she was only 16 and 17 years old. You can read that story as reported by ABC reporter Dan Noyes –> HERE.

Compare that read with the original investigative report from the Eastbay Express that brought all this to light. It’s called “Badge of Dishonor.”

The choice made by mainstream reporters to use sanitizing words like “sex scandal” as opposed to “rape” or “sleeping with” as opposed to “human trafficking” or “sex worker” as opposed to “prostitute,” “rape victim” or sexually exploited minor is rooted in what seems to be an all costs desire by many to see police as heroic figures who are a frontline defense protecting us from crime and other dangers. No one wants to see their heroes fall or be put in a bad light. Police departments know this and have acted accordingly.

The feel-good police PR stories fall flat when you have more than 30 cops in what major news outlets euphemistically call a “sex scandal” involving officers “sleeping” with a “sex worker” when she was only 16 and 17 years old. 

'Blue Lives Matter' posterPart of their PR campaign seems to be an attempt to put on a good face to lawmakers who are now being aggressively lobbied by police unions all over the country to put into place so-called Blue Lives Matter bills. These bills are written with the goal of making police a protected class of people and subjecting anyone attacking them to hate crime laws. Read about the array of bills being pushed nationwide –> HERE.

The PR campaign also serves to discredit and demonize the Black Lives Matter movement and associate anyone protesting the police, no matter how tame, outlandish or aggressive, as being a card carrying member acting on the directions of its leaders. Such attacks are dangerous and designed to squelch dissent. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The symbiotic and business relationship between police and media

One thing at play which is rarely talked about is the ongoing symbiotic and business relationships many media outlets have with police departments. In some cities, we have smiling officers giving us up-to-date information on traffic.

In other places, like Los Angeles, we have retired police officers who are embedded in newsrooms and on call to serve as “experts” to provide keen insight into SWAT standoffs and wild car chases, which are routinely shown on TV. Read about that HERE.

One thing at play which is rarely talked about is the ongoing symbiotic and business relationships many media outlets have with police departments.

As we sit mesmerized through a live car chase, our opinions are shaped by the police narrative, which is often the sole voice that goes unchallenged.

Hence a “troubled” suspect, who may be having a mental breakdown and need help and understanding is transformed before our eyes into a “dangerous perp” who should be stopped and taught a harsh lesson, maybe even shot and beaten for fleeing.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

This embedding kicked off an era where we have celebrity cops who become media darlings. They range from folks like the late LA Police Chief Darryl Gates, who had his own radio show, to tough talking Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to Sheriff David Clarke, who recently spoke at the Republican National Convention. Some well known athletes and actors are now police officers, including Shaquille O’Neal, Steven Seagal and Lou Ferrigno, to name a few.

In many places, police blotters seemingly tailor made for news reporters to read on air, help cash strapped outlets fulfill the “if it bleeds it leads” ethos. The prevailing train of thought is: “Why send a reporter out to investigate or unearth a news story when one can simply read story after story from a police blotter and interview a media savvy police spokesperson to fill in the details?”

This type of endeavor is justified by news directors who assert that on the front end, the incessant reporting of crime is a community service of sorts, where they are helping keep the public safe by getting the word out on behalf of the police and raising awareness about possible dangers we should be on the lookout for in our neighborhoods. On the back end, it saves news outlets lots of money as police departments come to serve as de facto news reporters.

Many corporate media outlets seek to court favorable interactions with the police in order to get an edge up on other business ventures they are involved in. For example, many outlets seek to increase their visibility by sponsoring and producing concerts and festivals. In many cities the police have tremendous power under the guise of public safety in recommending who gets permits or is allowed to play in a venue. In some instances, the police get to determine who even shows up on stage or what songs are sung.

“Why send a reporter out to investigate or unearth a news story when one can simply read story after story from a police blotter and interview a media savvy police spokesperson to fill in the details?”

We all know about what happened 25 years ago when the rap group NWA released the song “F— tha Police” and police departments put the smash on the group, forbidding them to perform the song in venues where the police had jurisdiction. The group decided to push back and defy the ban when they did a show in Detroit, which resulted in 20 plain clothes cops bum rushing the stage and effectively shutting down the concert.

The symbolism is heavy in this shot from the “Formation” video showing Beyonce atop a New Orleans police car partially submerged in the flood.

The symbolism is heavy in this shot from the “Formation” video showing Beyonce atop a New Orleans police car partially submerged in the flood.

Fast forward to 2016, we have a singer like Beyonce release a song like “Formation,” where she calls for the police to stop killing Black folks. Police unions all over the country put the call out to boycott her World Tour and not provide security at venues where they had jurisdiction. Read about that –> HERE.

A few months prior to Beyonce releasing “Formation,” filmmaker Quinton Tarantino found himself in the crosshairs of police unions and on the receiving end of a boycott after he attended a Stop Police Terrorism rally in New York City and said the following from the stage:

“I’m a human being with a conscience. And if you believe there’s murder going on, then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.

“When I see murders, I do not stand by … I have to call a murder a murder and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

Police unions didn’t stop at a boycott; they called for police officers not to consult with Tarantino and threatened there would be a “surprise” (payback). Tarantino to his credit did not back down, stating he would not be intimidated. You can read about that –> HERE.

Beyonce, one of the biggest stars in the world, also didn’t back down, but both she and Tarantino found themselves having to explain their remarks. This left folks wondering – if megastars could be put on blast by police, who else has been put in the crosshairs and completely silenced?

SFPD Southern Station logoBack in my Clear Channel-KMEL days, SFPD’s South of Market (Southern Station division) dictated to nightclubs in the areas which radio stations they could and couldn’t get to sponsor them. Our station was shut out of many nightclubs because the police captain at the time determined we attracted a “bad crowd” and for public safety reasons they would pressure clubs not to use us. Those who went against their recommendations were required to spend a couple thousand dollars hiring officers to sit in front of a nightclub to make sure our “bad crowd” was contained.

At one point we actually had a big meeting with that SFPD division. They came to the station, sat down and read off a list of incidents involving clubs that advertised with us. We in turn gave them an equally long list of incidents at clubs that had nothing to do with us. The meeting went nowhere quick, after my boss at the time informed the captain we would not be purchasing tickets or helping sponsor some sort of police golf charity they were putting on.

But needless to say, as a media outlet, maintaining a “good relationship” with the police became an in-house priority, especially when the influence of police spilled over to them having the final word on who did and didn’t get to perform at our signature Summer Jam event. For a period of time, all acts had to be run through local police departments because of the so-called “bad crowd” we attracted. They would give a yay or nay to our acts.

Many of the local acts we wanted were erroneously dinged and subsequently banned because police intelligence said they were gang affiliated or they were known to “attract a bad crowd.” One year we had a back and forth with police about having A Tribe Called Quest, who they claimed had gang ties. We won that battle but many we had to let go.

Demonizing the Black Lives Matter movement

Granting permits, influencing sponsorships of festivals and other outdoor events all play a role in how corporate media dances and depicts local police departments. That in turn means that when a PR campaign pops up where there is a call to highlight feel-good stories of police departments, many outlets will enthusiastically jump on them.

Black lives are in jeopardy every day everywhere, so Black Lives Matter protests take place year round all over the country.

Black lives are in jeopardy every day everywhere, so Black Lives Matter protests take place year round all over the country.

At the same time, you will see the unchallenged parroting of police departments demonizing protests and protestors. Most notably in recent times has been Black Lives Matter. If a local activist gets up and says the police have been infiltrated by white supremacists and rogue elements and have become a terrorist entity in many communities, such claims will be laughed at, dismissed and not even reported or investigated by many mainstream outlets. If anything, such claims will lead to news outlets working overtime to discredit or disproving those making these claims.

On the other hand, if a police agency, either through its command staff or their police union, assert organizations like Black Lives Matter are dangerous and the root cause of police getting killed or harmed in the line of duty, it’s held up and treated as a fact with little or no attempt to set the record straight either about the organization or the exaggerated notion that police are under significant threats. News outlets will go out of their way to frame a story in line with police narratives while ignoring or downplaying blatant, juvenile and insidious attacks made by police against organizations they deem hostile.

Larry Darnell Gordon

Larry Darnell Gordon

For example, we are constantly hearing about the police who were killed in Baton Rouge and Dallas with the prevailing narrative being the individuals who did the killing were “inspired” by Black Lives Matter. What’s left out of the narrative is that in between the Baton Rouge and Dallas killings, two officers were killed in Berrien County, Michigan, by a white man named Larry Darnell Gordon, who was a career criminal.

Many media outlets in their desire to appease police departments made no move to challenge or put into context the pro-police, anti-Black Lives Matter narratives constructed and dictated by police unions and PR firms.

For example, while media outlets ran with the BLM-inspired-the-killing-of-police narrative, very few looked into the role the military may have had on the lives and subsequent actions taken by Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Long, the two men who were accused of the police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

We heard no investigation into the military units they belonged to or what sort of things they were being taught or exposed to. There’s been little or no discussion on mental health. There’s been relative silence.

Many media outlets in their desire to appease police departments made no move to challenge or put into context the pro-police, anti-Black Lives Matter narratives constructed and dictated by police unions and PR firms.

However, many news outlets delved deeply into what sort of reading they did online and what type of music or artists they listened to and admired. A large net was drawn around folks and organizations who may have come upon these gentlemen casually or in passing.

We didn’t see this type of digging and mass associating when discussing Larry Darnell Gordon. There’s been little or no discussion into what may have influenced this career criminal. Was he affiliated with an anti-government militia or a white supremacist organization? After all, such outfits are not uncommon in a state like Michigan. Was Larry Gordon connected to a prison gang that had it in for the police and law enforcement?

Some may say such a question is far-fetched until you actually do some research and discover it was just two years ago, in April of 2013, that white supremacist prison gangs were accused of ordering the killing of Texas District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia.

Richard Lewis Dear

Richard Lewis Dear

The killing of an assistant prosecutor named Mark Hasse was supposedly ordered two months prior by the same white prison gang. That slaying also took place in Texas. All three killings came on the heels of Colorado prison chief Tom Clements being killed at his home. Again, that same white supremacist prison gang was at the center of the killings. Read about that –> HERE.

With all that’s been said, we can better understand why there wasn’t a rush by both police and corporate media outlets to connect the killings done by Gordon with movements and organizations he may have been connected to and demonize them.

Sadly, we saw similar patterns unfold after the tragic shooting of a Colorado Springs police officer named Garrett Swasey at the hands of Robert Lewis Dear, who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in November 2015.

Dear not only killed a police officer but also two civilians and injured nine others. In the aftermath, we did not see police unions characterize anti-abortion groups as violent organizations that needed to be curtailed. We didn’t see police rush to establish Blue Lives Matter laws.

Dear’s terrible actions were isolated and framed by both police and corporate media as an aberration of the pro-life movement vs. something as systemic and part of that movement’s ethos. Such latitude has not been granted to the BLM movement, as shown via proposed policies and increased hostile rhetoric, even as we are bombarded with feel-good police stories.

Conclusion

So where do we go from here? First we need to be aware of what’s going on. We have to be crystal clear that much of corporate media is built around PR and advertising campaigns and not investigative truth telling that challenges and holds accountable systems of power. This is particularly true when it comes to police. We have to not only be aware but call it out and move in precise directions to counter it. The sad reality is many media outlets are now owned by those power brokers.

Jersey City Police Jump Out Boys logoSecond, we cannot be lured into the trap of having feel-good stories be a substitute for justice. Yes, it’s great to see cops dancing with kids, giving out ice cream cones and helping those in dire straits. In fact, more actions like that should be encouraged; but for many, the smiles will be slow in coming if we see those who we grant with so much power not be held accountable when they violate our communal truth. We should not be satisfied with benevolent actions under oppressive conditions that can be likened to a dictatorship of sorts. We need to have a genuine system of checks and balances.

So when a news outlet like ABC wants to bring to light a leaked bulletin about police concerns around Black August, we should be asking, were there leaked bulletins and concerns about gangs dubbed social cliques with alleged white supremacist ties in police departments like the nationwide Jump Out Boys, 3000 Gang, The Vikings, The Nomads, Sunset Incorporated (SI)and many others? You can read about some of that –> HERE.

We should be asking if these mainstream news outlets are doing investigations into those organizations and putting systems in place where they can get leaked bulletins to follow up on their insidious activities. We should be checking to see if some of these reporters when they get before lawmakers will press them and vigorously follow up about what sort of actions they intend to take to curtail police wrongdoing. Far too often media outlets serve as glorified stenographers for police departments – and that’s got to change. Until then, #staywoke.

Davey D can be reached at mrdaveyd@gmail.com. Visit his website, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner, and his blog, Hip Hop and Politics, where this story first appeared, and listen to him weekdays at 4 p.m. on KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio.

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3 thoughts on “Police run feel-good PR campaign while criminalizing Black August

  1. Terry

    In my opinion you first have to realize that the police do not believe that anyone is a political prisoner except police who have been convicted of a crime against citizens. When you have events that call for security the police are the last people you should depend on. There are other organizations who have security services. The FOI of the NOI is one that I can name. You say they laughed at you when you said that police departments in the whole country have been infiltrated by the klan, but I don't think they laughed at the FBI when they said the same thing.

    Reply

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