[Hpn] Convention Hospitality and Police Brutality / Norman Solomon FW

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Wed, 26 Jul 2000 19:58:11 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Sun, 23 July 2000


By Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.org>   /   Creators Syndicate

Once again, Americans will be watching the extravaganzas known as the
Republican and Democratic national conventions, this time in Philadelphia
and Los Angeles. Both events are underwritten by business patrons; both
cities are notorious for police misconduct. Hospitality and brutality --
the contrasts could hardly be more extreme.

As thousands of delegates and journalists converge on the City of
Brotherly Love in eastern Pennsylvania, the welcome mat is embossed with
great riches. The Republican convention beginning Monday is brought to you
by movers and shakers of Wall Street.

The Grand Old Party's jamboree will cost in excess of $50 million, mostly
supplied via corporate donations. The same sort of financing is in the
pipeline for the Democratic convention (estimated price: $35 million) a
couple of weeks later. The symmetry of the largess is breathtaking.

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 explains. The spirit is often 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 are 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
phone business.

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."


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