On the afternoon of Monday, April 27, the Mondawmin Mall was broken into and the now infamous CVS on Pennsylvania and North Avenue burned. The next day at 10 p.m., Sean Hannity at Fox News threw to Geraldo Rivera, who was live outside that same CVS.
Rivera was supposed to talk about the curfew which had just gone into effect a few minutes earlier. In the video, he’s with Maryland State Sen. Catherine Pugh. But he can’t talk about the curfew because he’s being confronted by a demonstrator who is getting between him and the camera.
That demonstrator is 20-year-old Kwame Rose.
“I mean I’ve grown up in Baltimore city. I love Baltimore City,” says Rose. “Everyone who knows me before the video came out, that’s just me talking. That’s just regular things I point out all the time to regular people.”
There are two camera angles here. There are Fox’s cameras — which only features a short amount of the confrontation. Then there are videos from bystanders. In the latter you can hear Rose calling Fox News to leave Baltimore because they aren’t reporting about boarded up homes or poverty in the city.
In the video, the crowd cheers him on. You can see people holding cameras forming a huddle around Rivera and Rose. People are jeering and it’s unclear whether it’s directed at Geraldo Rivera or reporters in general. Rose calls in vain for the cameras to leave.
“I had no idea it was live on TV at all,” says Rose. “I felt like it was a time someone should speak up and stop being scared of the cameras and say something meaningful.”
The version of the confrontation that aired on Fox News looked quite different.
An unchanged landscape on TV news
The videos went viral. Reposted by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Bloomberg, The Baltimore Sun, and illustrating how many in Baltimore were upset with the news media — the way the story had shifted so dramatically the night before. The way cameras flocked to the city on Tuesday, after seeing fires and a sizable bump in Nielsen ratings on Monday.
Rivera later said he was just doing his job and telling an important story. He said that demonstrators like Rose were filled with “emotion”, “passion”, and “misguided anger”.
“After the night they had seen here on Monday we were worried that it would become that on Tuesday and it’s exactly that kind of youthful anarchy that led to the destruction and pain in that community,” Rivera said the next day.
Rose, however, says that wasn’t the story on Tuesday.
“One thing I wanted to mainly do is get back to the issue for the Baltimore black community is that we’re not here to defend ourselves from the riots,” says Rose. “We’re here to rally for justice for Freddie Gray.”
It was hard to get back to that message after Monday.
Hollis Robbins explains what she saw that evening, “television coverage of fire, of looting, the helicopter images of African American men breaking into the CVS. Suggested that this was a story about rioting and looting as if the story started there.” Robbins is the director for the Center on Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a former journalist. To her, Monday, April 27 was the day that TV news outlets changed their focus.
She was watching TV with her computer open to read Twitter. TV coverage was event based. Twitter, on the other hand, was deconstructing the story. Asking questions about the use of the word "thug" by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake. Discussing how we ought to feel about a mother who hit her child who tried to take part in in the looting.
That’s the kind of news and discussion Robbins wanted more of. The TV coverage, she says, hasn’t changed in 23 years.
Robbins was in L.A. in April of 1992 where a video showing police beating Rodney King eventually sparked riots.
“All these years later and nothing has changed. Both initial events were videoed. I guess I would have liked television to replay — not the riots but the initial beating of Rodney King — the initial beating,” says Robbins. “And asked what could we have been doing better since 1992? Why are we still in the streets, during a protest, telling the same story?”
Robbins rattles of a list of events since 1992.
“We’ve had 9/11, we’ve had Katrina, we’ve had the election of our first black president, we’ve had a multiplicity of wars. And yet nothing has changed for young black men in urban settings. I would have liked to have seen that story told.”
But as Farajii Muhammad says: “Whatever’s coming across in the media, it is what it is. That’s a portrayal. But we’re in modern 2015. So you think people only get their news from one place?” Muhammad serves as the peace coordinator for the Piece by Peace program in Baltimore.
“We can look at this and say it’s the media’s fault,” he says. “They blew it out of proportion. No. The people blew it up. The media just happened to catch it. I don’t blame the media in terms of how things come across. They say the media should have positive imagery. That’s fine. That’s true. But that positive imagery has to be balanced too. That yeah, it’s not good in Baltimore. There’s some deep pain. That’s not good.”
It’s a complicated issue for Muhammad. On the one hand, he feels some of the coverage in Baltimore has blamed the wrong people. But Muhammad also appeared on CNN to talk about what was going on.
“As activists and as organizers we do want the media in our struggle to help,” he says. “So that way we can get our message out there. So that way we can shape our narrative.”
Kwame Rose agrees.
“The media’s job is to get the story out there,” he says. “It’s just that we have to focus and force the focus on which story. On whether or not that’s the truth and the whole story.”
A different ending
Rose has taken on a leadership role since the video of him and Geraldo Rivera went viral. He addressed thousands of demonstrators recently. When I met him just outside City Hall, people were stopping him to laud him and shake his hand.
The coverage of Baltimore has also shifted dramatically since Monday, April 27. The State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, Marilyn Mosby, charged six officers in the death of Freddie Gray. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake asked the Department of Justice to investigate the police department. There has been no looting, no violence. Many news outlets are calling the mood here festive.
“What we saw on that Monday night had to happen. I’m glad it did happen. Because it awakened a whole city,” says Farajii Muhammad. “And not just on the ground level but all the way to the top. To the top officials. To see if you don’t do right by the community or by the people, you’re going see some repercussions of that.”
For many in Baltimore, their story looks the same as those that have played out throughout the country. But they’re hoping for a different ending.
[Music: "Baltimore" by Nina Simone from Baltimore]
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