Once again, it's the season of the Republican and Democratic national
conventions, this time choreographed in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Both
events have been underwritten by business patrons; both cities are
notorious for police misconduct. Hospitality and brutality -- the contrasts
could hardly be more extreme.
In the City of Brotherly Love, the welcome mat was embossed with great
riches. The Republican convention is brought to you by movers and shakers
of Wall Street.
The Grand Old Party's jamboree ended up with a pricetag in excess of $50
million, mostly supplied via corporate donations. The same sort of
financing is in the pipeline for the Democratic convention (estimated cost:
$35 million) in the middle of August. The symmetry of the largess is
US Airways "has contributed $500,000 to the GOP convention, at a time when
it is lobbying for support of its merger with United Airlines, which is a
$500,000 contributor to the Democratic National Convention," the Center for
Responsive Politics explained. The spirit is often apt to be bipartisan.
"Dozens of the nation's biggest companies, many of which have major issues
pending before Congress, are lining up to help foot the bill for this
year's conventions, some writing seven-figure checks to each of the events'
local host committees."
Several of those checks were from multimedia giants. After using mergers
to become a dominant provider of cable and broadband Internet access, AT&T
chose to split $2 million evenly between the conventions. The huge firm is
eager to keep federal regulators off its back.
Titans of the telephone service biz have been quite generous. The
Republican convention received $1 million from Verizon Communications
(formerly Bell Atlantic). The Democratic convention got a million bucks
from SBC Communications -- which wants Congress and the Federal
Communications Commission to let Baby Bells get into the long-distance
Microsoft gave $1 million to each party's convention. Wonder why.
Delegates and journalists enjoy plenty of perks at the conventions. The
parties tend toward the opulent, with lots of catered food and drink. It's
a festive atmosphere, with privilege in the air.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the media tracks, 2 million people take
their meals inside America's prisons and jails. How they got there, and
what happens when they're behind bars, is mostly out of media sight and
mind. Occasionally the coverage explores well beyond cliches and
stereotypes, but generally it's superficial and fleeting. Maybe, for the
most part, we'd rather not know.
Scandals about police brutality and fraud -- plaguing Philadelphia, Los
Angeles and other cities -- make headlines from time to time. Yet little
seems to change in a criminal justice process filled with systemic racism.
The dragnet is extremely skewed. For instance, 15 percent of the nation's
drug users are African Americans -- but they account for 33 percent of drug
possession arrests. One-third of the young black men in this country are
locked up, on probation or on parole.
"We are seeing the media cheerlead for the erasure and the erosion of
basic human rights and civil liberties," says Van Jones, director of the
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "If this were happening in any other
country in the world, this incredible militarization of the police, the
incredible expansion of police power, the increase in police weaponry, the
decrease in defendants' rights, the incredible stockpiling of bodies behind
prison walls, we'd be screaming."
But evasion is easier. "Much of America remains in denial about the
magnitude of police brutality, reflecting a historical pattern that
continued throughout the 20th century," journalist Jill Nelson observes in
the introduction to the new anthology "Police Brutality." She writes that
"abuse by the police is common in black, Latino, and other minority
After videotape of Philadelphia police officers beating a black suspect
appeared on TV screens nationwide in mid-July, Nelson commented: "Clearly,
there is a problem when it comes to policing citizens of color and
respecting our constitutional rights.... It is time we look at re-imagining
and retraining the police as to what their role is in a democratic society."
And just as clearly, it is also time we look at re-imagining and
retraining lawmakers, judges -- and journalists. Whether or not the
comfortable have enough comforts, the abused have certainly endured untold
abuse. While media conglomerates help to produce the major party
conventions, the voices we most need to hear are elsewhere.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media."