Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Obama: smartphones are new, racism isn't

This interview with Barack Obama, conducted by NPR's Steve Inskeep, was fascinating to me because the president made an insightful point about #blacklivesmatter. Obama remarked that the issues of racial injustice driving the movement and the protests weren't new. What is new, according to Obama, is the proliferation of smartphones which allow citizens to capture video of the police shootings and bring the injustice to light.

But in other cases, an issue like Black Lives Matter and the question of whether, you know, the criminal justice system applies equally to everybody, that's been an issue in the African-American community, and to some degree in the Latino community, for decades. There's no black family that hasn't had a conversation around the kitchen table about driving while black and being profiled or being stopped.
I think really what's changed over the last several years is the pervasiveness of smartphones and the visuals that suddenly have sparked a conversation about how we can deal with it. And although it's uncomfortable sometimes, I actually think that over the long term it's how, in Dr. King's word, you get a disinfectant by applying sunlight to it, and people see, you know what? This is a true problem, and as a consequence we've been able to have conversations that might not have happened 20, 30, 40 years ago, with police chiefs who genuinely want to do the right thing, law enforcement who recognize that they are going to be able to deal with crime more effectively if they've got the trust of the communities.
You know, during that process there's going to be some noise and some discomfort, but I am absolutely confident that over the long term, it leads to a fair, more just, healthier America. Sometimes progress is a little uncomfortable.
What the president said rings true. The recent stories of police violence in African American communities which are gaining national attention have historically been underreported by the media or spun by police departments. The digital cameras we all carry and the ready access we all have to social media channels have created a societal condition where citizens can capture and report stories informally and instantly. News narratives that used to be composed by news teams in search of ratings are now distributed across all kinds of media channels, by bystanders and professional reporters alike. The kinds of stories that rise to the surface under these societal conditions are different than the kinds that used to surface when only professionals reported the news.

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