Jack used a quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog today that rings true – “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.” (Will Smith). I’ve been around long enough to know that racism has always been there, but smartphones with video recording capabilities were not always there to capture it and let it be shown on the nightly news.
The Civil Rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s succeeded in getting many of the overt signs of racism removed and caused changes to the American Education system, but it did not cause racism to go away. Much of the focus of racism shifted from social expressions of separation onto economic and political means of subjugation of the black community.
The racism that sparked the marches and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still there when the news cameras stopped filming. It had become “old news”. But the protests against it never stopped. I remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. The news media was all over that. And there were the riots and protests in 1968 over the killing of Dr. King. That got news coverage for days.
I remember also the news coverage of the desegregation of Boston’s public schools and the hate that made the nightly news shows as schools across America were order to desegregate. Much of the focus of protest during the late 60’s and early 70’s was on the Viet Nam war, but racism was always there and sometimes not below the surface.
In 1980 Miami erupted into violent protest and riots over the killing of a black man by four white police officers. And in the 1990’s In Los Angeles in 1992 a week-long series of riots, lootings, arsons and civil disturbance that occurred i, following the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding the assault of Rodney King. That was the last time that the U.S. Army was called upon to quell the rioting.
In the 2000’s much of the attention of the news services shifted to covering mass shootings; but there was always racism bubbling up in the background somewhere. These are just some that made the news:
2001: Cincinnati riots – April – in the African-American section of Over-the-Rhine.
2009: Oakland, CA – Riots following the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant.
2012: Anaheim, California Riot—followed the shooting of two Hispanic males
2014: Ferguson, MO riots – Riots following the Shooting of Michael Brown
2015: 2015 Baltimore riots – Riots following the death of Freddie Gray
2015: Ferguson unrest – Riots following the anniversary of the Shooting of Michael Brown
2016: 2016 Milwaukee riots – Riots following the fatal shooting of 23 year old Sylville Smith.
2016: Charlotte riot, September 20–21, Riots started in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police
2017: St. Louis protests, beginning September 15, large protests erupted when police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
2019: Memphis riot, June 13, following the fatal shooting of Brandon Webber by U.S. Marshals, Memphis, TN.
It is notable that the first smartphone cameras were introduced in 2002 by Samsung and Sprint introduced the first camera equipped smartphone in the U.S. The public has been documenting racial incidents and the riots that often followed ever since. As soon as the camera quality become good enough for the video to be used on the nightly news we began seeing the stories of racial discrimination and the resulting unrest pop up again on our TVs. It had always been there, but no one could capture it until technology gave bystanders a video camera in their pockets. Some, as we have recently seen in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, were not innocent bystanders; but, rather, were participating in the acts by documentation.
Will Smith is right that things haven’t changed very much, they are just getting documented better. However, it is that constant reminder of the things that need to be changed that will eventually cause that change. It was the ugly nightly newscast pictures and video that eventually drove change at the national and state levels in the 1960’s. Today, it will be the smartphone videos on the nightly news that thrust the ugly reality of racism into our homes, which will drive change. The question is – How many people have to die on camera for us to make those changes?
Let your political representatives know that you have seen enough and demand that they make changes. Let’s turn the cameras on them and see what they do.