By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
You normally don’t expect such nonsense from CNN‘s lovably addled Connie Chung, who’d flown into L.A. from her home in 1955 and, as usual, appeared to be auditioning for the Betty White role in a new version of The Golden Girls. Although she did browbeat some poor retired cop about whether he thought Morse had abused Jackson (naturally, he didn‘t), Chung ultimately seemed to care less about police brutality than the possibility that protests might lead to trouble. Talking to comedian-turned-activist Dick Gregory, Chung rudely cut him off whenever he tried to talk about the larger context of the Jackson case. ”Let’s get to the issue at hand, Mr. Gregory,“ she interjected. ”In this particular case, the question is protests have been held and . . . don‘t you think you have a responsibility to make sure there is no rioting?“
Why this was Gregory’s responsibility more than hers, or ours, Connie didn‘t say. But her words did point to a key cultural divide revealed by the tale of the videotape. When some people see the police abusing Donovan Jackson, they also see the long shadow of the Rodney King beating and our nation’s tortured racial past -- an ongoing wrong that must be put right if we‘re to have a just society. When others see exactly the same footage, they see only the long shadow of the ’92 riots -- and care less about what may have set them off than quashing anything that might lead to the fire next time.
Even John Ashcroft, whose previous commitment to racial justice was largely limited to having Clarence Thomas anoint him with oil during his swearing-in (really), sent his chief civil rights lawyer out to L.A. Of course, it‘s not clear whether the attorney general was genuinely worried about injustice or simply agonized at the thought of an L.A. riot on his watch.
In the end, the hypnotic quality of these tapes underscored how thoroughly amateur video now shapes our sense of news (Walter Benjamin smiles). These days we’re all jaded about the pseudo-events that dominate the airwaves -- staged productions like Bush‘s Wall Street speech in front of wallpaper reading ”Corporate Responsibility“ -- and we’ve come to crave the apparent authenticity of raw footage. The most powerful recent images have been captured by amateurs: the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the bin Laden tapes, the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Smart family home videos. They seem ”real“ in a way that professional news footage usually does not.
And they‘ve become the new standard of proof. I can only imagine the blend of horror and grim satisfaction with which African-Americans viewed Crooks’ tape, for, like the Rodney King video, it reconfirms what they‘ve been saying for decades. The accusation that the police routinely harass and abuse African-Americans often reminds me of a philosophy question -- if a black man is beaten by the cops and nobody tapes it, did he really get beaten? In America today, the answer is nearly always ”No.“