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For CNN, Michael Smerconish Helps Police Create Propaganda Against Ferguson Protesters

Attorney and radio and television host Michael Smerconish spent a full hour on November 22 on the forthcoming grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, that was expected. He committed his show to not only holding protesters accountable but also to giving a Ferguson police officer air time to spread fear by claiming that all police officers he knows have received “death threats.”

The entire segment put the focus on protesters, who are concerned Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing an unarmed black teenager, Mike Brown, and there was an air of sanctimony to it. Even the guest who producers chose to be chastised on cable news television was a product of elitism. Altogether, it was a glaring example of how media can aid police in the suppression of dissent and what made it even more remarkable was that the guest resisted Smerconish while he was on air.

“Some protesters want to spark violence between themselves and police. Up next, a man who calls himself a citizen journalist, I might call him something else entirely. You’ll decide for yourself when we come back,” Smerconish condescendingly said before going to break.

The guest was Bassem Masri, a Palestinian American livestreamer who has been in the St. Louis area for months covering protests. In the past month, he was arrested multiple times, including during “Ferguson October” when he was arrested at a demonstration at Walmart and charged with “third degree assault” for allegedly spitting on a police officer.

The segment was framed as follows:

SMERCONISH: Should the grand jury in Ferguson choose not to indict Officer Wilson, all attention will shift to the demonstrators in the hope that protests remain non-violent. But at what point does a peaceful protest cross the line? And what’s the responsibility of those who take to the streets to make their voices heard?

Video shot by Masri from October 9 was played showing Masri yelling profanity and shouting insults at police officers. He can be heard saying, “I’m praying for your death and your death and your death,” to an officer.

Absolutely no context was provided. VonDerrit Myers, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis Police officer on October 8. Police allege he was armed, but witnesses have said Myers was running from the officer and “begging for his life.” The following night, protests and a candlelight vigil took place in Shaw, the neighborhood where Myers died.

The first questions Smerconish asked directly put Masri on trial:

SMERCONISH: Mr. Masri, did you spit on a police officer?
MASRI: No. No, I didn’t. That was an expression that we use in the Arab, you know what I’m saying? Basically, it’s just a sound of me being me spitting. It’s not what I was actually doing. So, yes –

SMERCONISH: You’ve been charged with spitting on a police officer, am I right?

MASRI: Yes, they believe videos and they believe Twitter trolls before they actually look at evidence. But that will get thrown out of court. That’s cultural background. So, it’s all good, you know?

Smerconish then played a clip of Michael Brown’s father pleading for no violence after the grand jury decision to try and further isolate Masri.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Brown has made a plea for calm. The president has made a plea for calm. Eric Holder has made a plea for calm.
And you’re taunting police officers by calling them cowards, pigs, bitches, and, quote-unquote, “I’m praying for your death.” Aren’t you — aren’t you contradicting what those three gentlemen asked for?

MASRI: Well, that was October 9th. You know, ever since then, I’ve been very calm, you know what I’m saying? That was just three, four minutes of me being a little bit emotional after they just killed somebody. So, yes, maybe they are taking that a little out of context.

I respect Mr. Brown, ain’t going to be no violence. We’re taking de-escalation courses. We’ve been doing our part.

Smerconish elevated profanity and insults to the level of violence and treated this speech as some kind of signal that officers are surely going to be hurt.

As Masri attempted to explain to Smerconish, “I don’t think we should be looking at citizens about how they react towards their public servants. It should be the other way around.”

“Now, what you saw right there was reality TV. People are pissed off about how they’re getting treated in the streets and how people are getting killed. They should be looking at that besides our reaction. We have a right to be mad. Our anger is justified,” Masri declared.

Eventually, Masri called out Smerconish for his pathetic and amateurish attempt to hold protesters "accountable."

“Why don’t you go investigate something real? Why don’t you go investigate something real?” Masri asked. “I spoke my mind. I’m a citizen. Why don’t you worry about us getting killed? The warrants, the extortion, the limits on the Constitution they put on us. Do you [worry] about that, Michael? No, you’re worried about what I said.”

Smerconish expressed the main view behind his animosity toward community residents who have been protesting:

“Why not everybody catch their breath, allow this thing to run its course and then when all of the evidence that was evaluated by the grand jurors get put on line and we can review hundreds, thousands of pages of factual evidence, then we catch our breath, evaluate what it says, and plan what our next moves will be? Doesn’t that seem like the more prudent course?” Smerconish asked.

Ignoring the fact that such evidence may never be made public, something that never crossed Smerconish’s mind when asking this question, the premise of the question is based in contempt for freedom of speech, assembly and protest in general.

Smerconish wants people to stay at home and stop trying to influence people’s opinion because either that is his job and he thinks he is better at it or, more significantly, he thinks citizens should not be casting doubt on the processes of their government and sowing distrust that will lead to chaos.

It is an exceedingly privileged viewpoint. Only someone who does not empathize with communities which routinely experience police violence and will never be a victim of systemic racism from any part of the criminal justice system could hold this view.

*

During the same edition of his show and before Masri appeared, Smerconish had Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, on as a guest. Roorda has said he is done letting high-profile cases be tried in the court of public opinion without “hard evidence” and his union will no longer stand in the shadows in these kinds of cases.

Roorda claimed there have been “very broad threats against law enforcement,” and there were “violent attempts to kill or injure police officers every night for two weeks on the streets of Ferguson. “I’m afraid in the wake of this decision that we’ll see far worse,” he suggested.

“There needs to be somebody speaking for this officer because all we hear about is folks that want to try him without the benefit of hearing any evidence,” Roorda said of Officer Wilson.

Rather than challenge what Roorda was saying in the same way he would challenge Masri, he encouraged Roorda to openly express this mentality that officers have been surviving some kind of unjust siege against them.

SMERCONISH: Governor Nixon has declared a state of emergency in this case. You heard the criticism before that police need to be careful because if there’s a reaction of a show of strength by law enforcement, it may have the unintended consequence of bringing out the worst of the protesters. Do you buy into that criticism?

ROORDA: Not at all, Michael. I really kind of sick of hearing that the constant blaming of the police for the behavior of the crowd. We saw every single night up there for those two weeks of violent protests we saw the police change their tactics every night. They adjusted to the realities on the ground and we saw the same outcome every night. That was violence, attempts to kill police, attempts to injure police, looting, burning buildings. This is not about the police. This is about the intentions of the crowd. And that crowd after dark had very, very bleak intentions.

At no point did Smerconish contest this idea that there were attempts by protesters to kill and injure police. He at no point asked Roorda to differentiate between activists and the few in a community who may take advantage of a situation to commit criminal acts, which could happen anywhere.

Smerconish did not ask Roorda to think about what Brown’s family is going through. Quite the opposite. Just moments before having Masri on to condemn protesters for making up their minds without seeing the evidence the grand jury has seen he prompted Roorda to explain why he had made up his mind that Wilson is innocent and there’ll be no indictment.

SMERCONISH: And Mr. Roorda, you are concerned in part because you don’t think that the officer, Officer Darren Wilson, will be indicted. Why don’t you think he’ll be indicted?

ROORDA: Michael, what I know of the forensics and ballistic evidence and witness statements support Officer Wilson’s claim that this was a shooter or killer – kill or be killed situation and that he acted in self defense.

SMERCONISH: Is there one particular part of the scenario, one part of the evidence that you would point to and say this is something that I find significant?

ROORDA: Well, you know, the first shots were fired inside the car as Michael Brown attempted to remove the officer’s gun, apparently. And then when Mr. Brown charged the officer a second time, he was left with only one alternative. When someone tries to take your gun away and then they come at you again, it is – you are left with the alternative of using deadly force.

SMERCONISH: In other words, in lay terms you see this as a kill or be killed scenario, and that’s how you expect the grand jurors will react to it?

ROORDA: Yes.

The message from the broadcast was clear: it is okay for a voice speaking on behalf of police to take a simplistic position that this was a “kill or be killed scenario.” It is not okay for protesters, the rabble incensed by what they perceive as injustice, to insist Wilson is guilty because he shot to kill, not to apprehend, and there is something terribly wrong if he is not indicted.

It probably pleased police officers in St. Louis to see Smerconish reinforce why any violence employed by police after the grand jury decision will be defended or excused by authorities.

CommunityFDL Main Blog

For CNN, Michael Smerconish Helps Police Create Propaganda Against Ferguson Protesters

Attorney and radio and television host Michael Smerconish spent a full hour on November 22 on the forthcoming grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, that was expected. He committed his show to not only holding protesters accountable but also to giving a Ferguson police officer air time to spread fear by claiming that all police officers he knows have received “death threats.”

The entire segment put the focus on protesters, who are concerned Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing an unarmed black teenager, Mike Brown, and there was an air of sanctimony to it. Even the guest who producers chose to be chastised on cable news television was a product of elitism. Altogether, it was a glaring example of how media can aid police in the suppression of dissent and what made it even more remarkable was that the guest resisted Smerconish while he was on air.

“Some protesters want to spark violence between themselves and police. Up next, a man who calls himself a citizen journalist, I might call him something else entirely. You’ll decide for yourself when we come back,” Smerconish condescendingly said before going to break.

The guest was Bassem Masri, a Palestinian American livestreamer who has been in the St. Louis area for months covering protests. In the past month, he was arrested multiple times, including during “Ferguson October” when he was arrested at a demonstration at Walmart and charged with “third degree assault” for allegedly spitting on a police officer.

The segment was framed as follows:

SMERCONISH: Should the grand jury in Ferguson choose not to indict Officer Wilson, all attention will shift to the demonstrators in the hope that protests remain non-violent. But at what point does a peaceful protest cross the line? And what’s the responsibility of those who take to the streets to make their voices heard?

Video shot by Masri from October 9 was played showing Masri yelling profanity and shouting insults at police officers. He can be heard saying, “I’m praying for your death and your death and your death,” to an officer.

Absolutely no context was provided. VonDerrit Myers, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis Police officer on October 8. Police allege he was armed, but witnesses have said Myers was running from the officer and “begging for his life.” The following night, protests and a candlelight vigil took place in Shaw, the neighborhood where Myers died.

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For CNN, Michael Smerconish Helps Police Create Propaganda Against Ferguson Protesters

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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