Friday, September 30, 2011

Media Literacy At Work

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s been a while since I wrote about using media literacy skills, one important step towards understanding and creating media justice. I really enjoy this article by Elizabeth Thoman at the Center for Media Literacy as it outlines what media literacy is and its various components. As I wondered what to write about this week, I realized that I had been thinking about a segment I watched this weekend on 60 minutes. I’ve decided to share some of my questions and analysis to show how I use my media literacy skills to examine the media I’m consuming. One of the things I’d like to highlight is that different people experience the same media message differently and I know this may occur and I welcome it. So, if you have a different or other response to the media please share it! I wrote this article before writing this introduction, so there may be a more conversation style of writing below.

Did ya’ll see this past Sunday’s 60 Minutes? It had some interesting stories. One on a white supremacist militia leader who was murdered at close range by his 10 year old son (not on the rise of white supremacist militias). Another story was about the creators of South Park, but it was the first story about NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly speaking about what the NYPD have done since September 11th, 2001 to make the city “safer.” Here’s the entire segment to watch (sorry no transcript). I found myself using a lot of my media literacy skills and focusing on media justice at the same time. The story is called “Fighting Terrorism in New York City.”

It’s important for readers to know that when I watched this I was with a group of racially Black New Yorkers who ranged in age from mid-thirties to mid-sixties (I being one of the youngest folks there). All of us identify as radically left leaning as well and I’m sure others may identify us as “radicals.” As we watched, I had a LOT to say, but said it mostly under my breath as the room was very silent as we sat and watched. I want to share some of my personal thoughts as well as some of the conversations that occurred during commercial breaks.

One of the first things discussed was the mispronunciation of the word “hierarchical” by Commissioner Kelly and then followed by the journalist. This occurs at the 2:42 mark if you want to go back and hear. We wondered what does that mean when the journalist, who probably knows the proper way of pronouncing that term, mirrors what their interview subject states, even if it’s wrong? Is this a good thing? A sign that the journalist was listening and centering the interviewer? Or is this poor choice? I’m still not sure where I’m at on this because often I think when folks mirror slang or terms that a community has created, especially when youth-centered, it becomes almost a performance of that term/word when it is mirrored. What do others think?

The counter terrorism division that was created in NYC was the focus of the segment. As I shared in a previous post regarding coping and healing during September 11th, I was here in NYC at the time, and have returned and witness first hand the work of the counter terrorism division. In the beginning of the segment we are told that NYPD are “armed like soldiers” and they are! Now, seeing ginormous guns in the hands of NYPD where I may go in the city does not make me personally feel more safe. Instead it actually makes me more tense. It triggers memories I have of visiting Puerto Rico during one of the height of the US war on drugs in the early 1990s where military occupied Puerto Rico and armed military men were pulling over random cars and searching them. This is a jarring experience to have and witness at any age. Yet, this is what may spaces such as Penn Station has turned into in NYC.

In the piece we learn that the NYPD is working with the secret service, military, FBI, federal emergency management, state and local first responders, but not the CIA. The absence of the CIA was something we discussed as well. Reports citing that the NYPD has been working with the CIA since 2002 are not new. What may be new is that folks didn’t realize this is not something the CIA is allowed to do: collect information/spy on “Americans” (I put “Americans” in quotes because America is NOT just the US, geographically speaking America includes Canada, the US, Central and South America. Yet, when people in the US use it, the purposes are primarily to mean US citizens or people living in the continental US. I put this note here because it is important to show that even the media we consume don’t always get it “right” or craft language in a particular way. Language is powerful!) Yet, this is exactly what has been done for almost 10 years. Currently the CIA is investigating the legality of working with the NYPD to focus on Muslim communities.

$3 billion has been spent to prepare NYPD for “every kind of threat” including having the ability to “take down a plane.” This includes training assault teams in specific ways like the hostage situation in a subway car we were shown. But, I wondered: why are there NO dummies or masses that could be people in that space, which is the reality of subway cars in NYC? How is this a good training simulation without having the knowledge that folks may be occupying space, screaming, terrified? This reminds me of the Maryland driving test where you take the driving test in a closed parking lot versus on the road where people actually drive in real life in this country!

Another part of the segment I struggled with was how it is impossible to walk a block in lower Manhattan without being monitored. There are currently 2000 cameras and soon to be 3000 that feed into the system created to monitor us. This alone a $150 million project. The artificial intelligence created, we are told, can identify packages that are left in a place too often (as we have been socialized for ten years to “if you see something say something” yet often there are no ways for us to “say something” until we are off the subway and find an employee, which the MTA has limited due to financial burdens). Now, the technology can also identify the description of a person. The example used was a person wearing a red shirt, but I wondered how sophisticated this was, as in would it racially profile people as well? This reminded me of the movement of young men of Color wearing white t-shirts all over their communities to make racial profiling harder for officers. I also wonder, if it can identify people why do we still have so many missing person’s reports in that area? Oh, right this is only for counter terrorism.....

And that counter terrorism effort is not just in the US, it’s abroad, where other NYPD are located. They are said to be “gathering intelligence all over the world” including Jordan, France, Madrid, Tel Aviv, London, Toronto, Singapore, and Dominican Republic. From a globalization perspective these countries must have agreed to have these folks placed in their country right? Well, that’s not stated, but i would like to think that’s the case and Commissioner Kelly would have not discussed things in this way if they were not agreed upon through a collaboration between nations.

The parts of the segment that I’ve also experienced where when NYPD signal subway cars to stop so that they can eyeball every passenger before letting the train go. Many folks may say all of these things are efforts to keep us safe, that who cares if we are a few minutes late for whatever we are going to do. But this is still racial profiling! What exactly are these officers looking for, or whom? What is considered a suspicious package or person? I really do still believe this is a form of institutionalized Islamaphobia.

One of the aspects of the counter terrorism efforts that the journalist was impressed by was one that I found to be deeply troubling. This was the NYPD Cricket group that consists of 12 teams and 200 Pakistani youth. The officer who coordinated the league stated that cricket is national pastime of Pakistan. Yet, cricket is also the sport in many Caribbean countries, so why the focus on Pakistani youth? Journalist stated that “Hundreds of Muslim immigrant parents have kids playing for the NYPD.” This is impressive to our journalist and media providers? This leaves me frustrated.

Finally, this whole conversation about being “lucky” in catching the bomb that was in Times Square last year. That wasn’t because of the $3 billion training or technology, that was luck? So then how do we know any of this will actually ever work for reasons it’s been created? We just heard a 12 minute discussion and presentation on how this new approach is great and impressive, yet we are still holding onto luck. Again, I don’t feel any more safe after watching this segment.

I learned that the US and NYPD define terrorism in a very rigid and specific way. Terrorism is not connected to the number of rapes, domestic violence, or hate crimes that are committed often by US citizens towards and upon other US citizens. Oh the irony of it all! What would our society (at least in lower Manhattan) look like if these resources shifted to social issues and experiences that a larger group of people experience and are impacted by? What more are we willing to give up regarding privacy and safety for a city and government counter terrorism plan of action? We’ve learned that the Patriot Act has resulted in more arrests for drugs (over 1500) than for terrorism (15).

What are your thoughts about how counter terrorism efforts have been presented and shared in our communities? Are there other aspects that came up for you while reading and watching the clip? If you live outside NYC what are ways your communities have seen counter terrorism efforts? What are the advantages and challenges experienced?

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