If you watch the video of DeRay Mckesson‘s arrest, you will see that moments before he was arrested, the police who were following protesters along the road warned that if he crossed a line into traffic he would go to jail. Moments later, as he was well behind the line and did not obstruct any passing vehicles, he was arrested anyway. From the tone of their voices in the video, at least, the arresting officers seemed gleeful.
To this very moment, videos continue to come out of Baton Rouge that are deeply disturbing–well-armed officers pursuing peaceful protesters onto private property and tackling them to the ground. I’ve seen and been in the middle of clashes between protesters and police before–in countries with authoritarian governments, and in countries with troubled democracies. These protesters’ videos are no better.
In the meantime, there are people around the country who are REJOICING at the idea of a peaceful protester being arrested, as if that should be a good thing when one disagrees with the subject of the protest.
I still remember being horrified when I was young to see that the KKK was permitted to march through the streets of major cities in America. And I remember checking myself, and reminding myself that accepting such things were a part of living in a democracy, a land that professed to strive for liberty, equality, and legal protection of the basic human right to free speech. I thought–I may not always agree with my countrymen, but I will always, always respect their right to free speech. And I thanked god that my grandparents and parents moved here so that I could grow up with that right in tact. We may not be as equal and fair as we’d like to be, I thought, and we may have some horrifyingly dark moments in our history (lynching, segregation, internment, mass incarceration) but at least–thanks to great men and women in our history, including the many sacrifices of the leaders of the civil rights movement–we could speak out about it. At least we have rule of law and due process and enabled and allowed movements that could right our wrongs. In my mind, these were our saving graces.
I took these oh-so-American ideals with me overseas as I reported on governments I grew up learning were (supposed to be) more oppressive than the one in my home country. I wrote about the struggle of people in other countries to make their voices heard. And those at home who read those stories nodded their heads in agreement–because surely it is a terrible day for humanity when a person who simply wants to make their country a better place must face arrest, or worse.
Now I’ve returned to a country I have always been proud of, despite its deep flaws–flaws that were a large part of why I chose to become a journalist in the first place (so I could perhaps do my part to expose them and lead to change). And though I still love my country, every Tweet and live stream I am seeing now is chipping away at my confidence in the perception that we are any better than other nations we so eagerly consider to be worse off.
Kudos to those reporters and editors who have been working tirelessly to document these events, and EXTRA props to those who see this period in our history for its significance, and who are fearlessly giving it the coverage and resources it deserves, including Wesley Lowery and Yamiche Alcindor. “The media,” often wrongly the fall-guy for when things go wrong, does have to step it up. Because as NYU Professor Farai Chideya wrote yesterday in the Guardian, “We in the media are looking to reclaim a seat of authority in this conversation, but we have not paid our dues in years.”
We, as a country, have so much more work to do than most of us realize. While last week was a sad, sad week for America, this weekend made it even worse. But at least, in all the chaos and despair over the last week, and with families in mourning and at lease dozens of Americans sitting in jail for protesting, it is uplifting to see a generation that is working on achieving the positive change that has been and continues to be beyond our grasp.