Recent media coverage of the unrest in Baltimore proves that mainstream media hasn’t learned much from its experience covering Ferguson protests following the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown. Once again, it was public reactions on social media, not national news outlets, that helped provide a more accurate portrayal of the crowd of protesters urging for justice after another unarmed Black man was killed by police.
When isolated incidents of violence broke out during overwhelmingly peaceful protests in Baltimore, mainstream media painted a picture of “war zone.” Headlines emphasized instances of window-smashing, looting and violence.
The roughly 100 people involved in these acts were shoved into the spotlight while thousands of peaceful protesters barely made headlines. All the while, voices seemed eerily silenced when it came to the very matter that sparked the unrest in the first place—the death of an unarmed Black man, Freddie Gray, who received a fatal spinal injury while in police custody.
Thanks to social media, however, a Baltimore Orioles executive, a renowned hip hop star, a variety of journalists and other entertainment figures were able to counteract the mainstream media’s depiction of the situation in Baltimore.
When sports broadcaster Brett Hollander took to social media to complain that the demonstrations were forcing the game’s attendees to be kept inside until further notice, Orioles chief operating officer John P. Angelos—son of team owner Peter Angelos—came forward with a very different message.
Inconvenienced people at a ball game should not hold priority over the discriminatory systems and policies that have forced the city into the predicament that has caused chaos today, Angelos insisted.
In a series of tweets, Angelos agreed that peaceful protesting is key but said the isolated incidents of violence were not his greatest concern.
“My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy behond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts [of the] group but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and town around the US to 3rd world dictatorships like China,” he wrote in a lengthy series of tweets.
He added that officials only made the situation worse by following these actions with a national attempt to diminish “every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”
Dealing with these deeply rooted issues is what he says “far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards.”
“We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic, civil, and legal rights,” he continued.
As the country is already entangled in a battle that extends centuries into its past, activists are urging the media to provide fair coverage of the protests rather than leave the truth shrouded in a cloak of stereotype-perpetuating story angles that disproportionately highlight isolated incidents of violence.
“Of the thousands of frames, this is how @baltimoresun chooses to visually frame a day where 4k marched,” one user tweeted with an image of the Baltimore Sun’s cover page.
“This should have made the front page of The #BaltimoreSun #Freddie Gray,” a tweet shared by rapper Talib Kweli read.
The hip hop star featured an image of protesters united together with their fists in the air. No signs of violence. Only a symbol of unity.
Some journalists managed to pull back the curtains on misleading images that the media used to create a misconstrued portrait of Baltimore protesters.
An image of a man pulling a woman away from what seems to be a violent group quickly went viral, but the man captured in the photo grabbing the woman says the stories around the image are all wrong.
“Here is a photo of me stopping a woman from going at protestors (she seemed very drunk)…saving her from herself,” City Paper’s Brandon Soderberg tweeted. “That image is being sent around to suggest I was protecting her from protestors.”
He explained that not only was he trying to keep a drunk woman from making a silly mistake but that the white woman who was so quickly painted to be a damsel in distress was walking at the protest. Another drunk woman, he added, threw bar stools at protesters.
He capped off his explanation of the photo with a clear message.
“Don’t let f*****g white bmore barhoppers off the hook, hold them responsible too,” he tweeted.
Even a Wall Street Journal reporter was confused about all the headlines emphasizing violence and chaos.
“Last night I drove right through some of the protest sites in Baltimore,” Christopher Mims tweeted. “Were overwhelmingly peaceful. #FreddieGray….But this morning all the images are of (very isolated) acts of vandalism, a few fights. Stereotypes: confirmed. And so it (tragically) goes.”
Others even shared images of protesters trying to protect police vehicles and urging the few violent demonstrators to remain calm and peaceful.
The emphasis on the violence, however, encouraged stars from The Wire to take to their social media platforms to call for peace and remind demonstrators that acting in violence may be in direct contradiction to their cause.
“To my Beloved city Baltimore…I feel your pain…Stand up…rise UP without breaking down! Discipline not Destruction,” Andre Royo, who played Bubbles on the show, tweeted.
Many of the show’s stars have a connection the city since The Wire chronicled the Baltimore Police Department and the city they are supposed to serve and protect.
Wendell Pierce, who took on the role of detective Bunk Moreland, gave a controversial response to the violence as he deemed some of the protesters as “criminals.”
“Baltimore. These are not protesters. These are criminals disrespectful of the wishes of the family and people of good will,” his tweet read.
Both stars seemed to mirror the sentiments of the show’s creator, David Simon.
“The anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease,” Simon wrote on his website. “Here was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a diminution of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death… If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.”
Meanwhile, officials are holding on to a narrative of violence and chaos as reports of an alleged threat by gang members has put the police on high alert in the city.
Baltimore Police claimed they received a “credible threat” that members of various gangs were agreeing to a temporary truce in order to mobilize an attack against police officers.
While officials urged police to be on high alert, they also refused to disclose information about the alleged tip or explain why they felt the source was credible.