Death on Burnside and the Corporate Media
It hasnt't taken long for the corporate media to sketch in the faint lines of the life that was wasted yesterday in the cold, gray morning on Burnside. He was a drug addict, an ex-con, he was a "transient." What more can be said? Well, plenty. Before we swallow this lurid portrait laid out for us with all the subtleties of a magik marker set, maybe we need to look deeper. A lot deeper.
You know, I have a friend who insists that the poison of the corporate media is so toxic that it's dangerous even to glance at it briefly. He's right, of course. But after an event like the one we all suffered through yesterday, I often have an inexplicable urge to see what they have to say about it. I know it's foolish. I don't know why I do it. I never even have to crack open a paper or wander past a television set. I already know what they will say. They will perform their function. They will side with the police state, they will demonize the dead, they will protect and exonerate the killers. They will blame the victim of state violence, every single time.
And so they did.
While most of us know little about the human being who was murdered yesterday, other than that his skin was black and his blood ran red, all the happy faces on the TV news have filled in the rest through innuendo and assumption. These are their flippant denials that anything is wrong with the machine. This is what they do.
He has been cast as the villain. The "bad guy." That is his role. And the role of the corporate media is to cast him there.
His name, not that it matters in their story, was Vern. Vernon Allen. He was 48 years old. He was African American. He lived on the streets. That's all I know about him right now. And that's really all the corporate media knows, either, though it has not stopped Portland's "journalists" from tucking selective bits of flotsam into the frame, all gleaned from cozy chats with the Portland Police Bureau's Public Information Officer. It took them less than a day to begin forming the usual portrait. "A drug pipe was found next to the body," said one "journalist." Another smugly noted, "His last known address was in a prison." There was a slightly-too-long pause after that statement, to ensure that it sunk in.
There are so many facts, so many stories, so many bits and pieces in a person's life. I always wonder about biographies, and even autobiographies, because I can't imagine how one could pick out just enough detail to fill the pages of a book. How much of those words are really that person, and how much of that person is a flowing, changing pattern that cannot be nailed down in written language? In Mr. Allen's case, I wonder even more. How is it that, in a life that spanned almost 50 years, every corporate journalist in town has picked out the same 5 or 6 sparse details, the same shallow, surface "facts," and presented them to us as relevant to his life and to what happened yesterday on Burnside? How is it that all of these details build an image of someone who "had it coming," even when he so clearly did not? Where did these details come from, anyway? Why, from the PIO, of course. Why should we allow them to be the ones to define this man's entire life, and in a way that suits their agenda?
Some of the details sound suspect at best. Like the "drug pipe." Yes, we've all heard that one before. Baggies in mouths, drugs in bloodstreams, pipes laying nearby. I don't think I buy that. But it doesn't really matter. Because a crack pipe is only shorthand for "his life didn't mean anything anyway," and I don't buy that either. I remember how they distilled the life of Kendra James down to "drugs in her bloodstream." That was the corporate media mantra in the days after her death at the hands of the same gang. We never heard about her family who loved her, or her children who must do without her. We only heard that she was a crack addict. But I also I remember how, at the march held for her in the neighborhood where she was gunned down by the PPB, people who knew better stood up to defend her. Said one man, "Bush's daughers are drug addicts. Do you see anybody shooting them down in the streets?" Said another man, "Kendra James, they say you were a crack addict. But we say, you were a child of God. That your life had meaning."
Those words brought tears to my eyes, and they still do. Because the Portland Police Bureau had killed Kendra James in cold blood, and then the propaganda arm of the police state went on to kill her story, too. But these people, standing in the warm glow of spring, reclaimed at least the story, if not the life. They refused to allow cold, corporate journalists to dismiss her. They refused to allow the murderers off the hook on the grounds that the victim did not matter. And they refused to let a few well-spun words represent the human being who was lost.
I want to do that now, for Vernon Allen. I want to stand up and say, Vernon Allen, you were a child of God. I do not know very much about you, but I know that someone cared enough about your life to leave flowers on the corner where three police officers and six bullets ended your story forever.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article
discussion from this article