David McNew via Getty Images. A protester holds a poster showing 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by Ferguson police in 2014.
WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump believes that he can see the future.
While speaking to a mostly white crowd in Dimondale, Michigan, last week, the Republican presidential nominee said that he would gain 95 percent of the black vote when he runs for reelection in 2020.
This vision is far-fetched. Two days before Trump clairvoyantly looked toward 2020, he appointed Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, as the chief executive of his campaign ― an acquisition that counters Trump’s newfound desire to increase his dismal appeal with African-American voters.
Here’s a look at how the site, which has grown into a refuge for white supremacists, covers cop killings of black people, crime in black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Breitbart has a tendency to blame victims of police violence for their own deaths.
Contributor James Pinkerton published an article on the site earlier this month about gentrification, painting gentrifiers as good Samaritans helping clean up crime. He included a dig at Black Lives Matter, a movement against racial violence that the site often deems “radical” ― before holding black victims of police violence responsible for their own deaths.
Yet we can note that none of the deceased were choirboys. Eric Garner, for example, had been arrested 30 times. As for Laquan McDonald, as a juvenile, he had “a history of arrests for drugs and petty crimes,” and on the night he died, he was seen breaking into cars; he was shot with a knife in his hand. As for Freddie Gray, he, too, had a long rap sheet ― a total of 18 prior arrests. And as for Michael Brown, at age 18, he had no known arrest record, but he was videotaped committing a crime just minutes before he was killed ― a death that even Barack Obama’s Department of Justice ruled was “justifiable homicide,” that is, self-defense on the part of the policeman.
Shifting liability from the officer to the victim is fairly common whenever people ― especially black people ― are killed by the police. Bringing up a victim’s criminal record confuses how the justice system works in this country ― we actually don’t want cops handing out death sentences for petty crimes. It also paints black people broadly as criminals who deserve to be killed, and bolsters the assumption that the officer was justified in shooting these (usually unarmed) victims. And, it implies that it isn’t on the police to stop killing people. Rather, it’s up to citizens to figure out how to not get themselves killed.
Instead of focusing on the many efforts across the country to bring down the number of people killed by police, Breitbart seems far more concerned with the fictional “War On Cops” and depicting Black Lives Matter activists as having “cop-killing heroes.”
Of course, Black Lives Matter has never condoned violence against police, and being a cop is no more dangerous now than it was before this new wave of protest against police violence.
Breitbart loves to focus on “black-on-black crime.”
The stories found under Breitbart’s “black-on-black crime” tag have one focus: arguing that crime in black communities is the main ― and perhaps the only ― problem in black Americans’ lives.
One article lists fatherless homes and crime as warranting more collective outrage than the backlash against the lack of diversity in the 2016 Academy Award nominations. Another questions “where were these Black Lives Matter protesters” following the death of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, a black child who was shot and killed by a black man in Chicago, before listing five reasons why black people should be more concerned with crime in black neighborhoods.
Being angry about “black-on-black crime” and protesting racial injustice are not mutually exclusive. Black activists in Chicago, and elsewhere, have always protested the high rates of violence in their communities. The notion that black people aren’t concerned with crime is out-of-touch, and shows faux concern for what happens in black neighborhoods when the media isn’t around covering large-scale protests against police violence.
Plus, bestowing a separate moniker on crime in black neighborhoods when we call “white-on-white crime” simply “crime” is pretty racist. In fact, most homicide victims are the same race as their killer, according to FBI statistics. That’s because people typically commit crimes where they live, and our nation is still woefully segregated.
Jim Bourg / Reuters. A fire hose cut by Baltimore protesters sprays water into the air as a line of police move toward a burning CVS drug store after Freddie Gray’s funeral on April 27, 2015.
Breitbart depicts black protest as violent and mob-like.
When black Baltimoreans took to the streets of Charm City to protest 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, things got a little heated. Some protesters threw bricks at police, others broke windows of cop cars, and a handful played a role in burning down a local CVS.
But instead of contextualizing this response to Gray’s death, former Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro decided to list five “leftist myths about what drives race riots,” dismissing racism as a factor altogether.
“Modern race riots do not occur because of the supposed white superstructure or a legacy of governmental underservice,” Shapiro said at the end of his piece. “They occur because valueless rioters act in valueless ways. Baltimore is evidence that glossing over lack of values with leftist pabulum about social justice doesn’t stop cities from burning.”
Most of Breitbart’s coverage on the protests, listed under the “Baltimore Riots” tag, focused on demonizing the city’s black residents and suggesting that the destruction of property is just as big a problem as police shooting unarmed people dead in the streets. This is another common refrain when black protesters mobilize against police violence ― focusing on any damage protesters caused instead of remembering what sparked the protest in the first place.
Another piece characterized the Black Lives Matter activists who interrupted the 2015 Netroots Conference as a “shouting, rude mob” ― a common media theme that connects blackness with unruliness, violence and trouble. When Jesse Williams delivered a scathing speech indicting systemic racism at the 2016 BET Awards in June, another Breitbart article condemned the actor and activist for not commanding black people “not to use the N-word; not to glorify violence; or to honor cops protecting black communities” instead of reckoning with his message.
So why did Trump choose this guy?
Much of Breitbart’s coverage implies that all black people live in crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods. Disturbing stereotypes about black people are more likely to be shared by Trump supporters, and they discount the reasons behind high crime rates in some black communities.
With the site showing no signs of slowing on this type of coverage, it’s hard to figure out how Trump thinks appointing Bannon was a good idea. Then again, it’s not clear whether the GOP nominee actually wants to win this election at all.