OH, WE'RE BODY-SLAMMING NOW?

Cartoon image by Jeff Darcy

Cartoon image by Jeff Darcy

Written by Devyn Springer

I’ll be honest. When I got the news notification on my phone that read ‘Republican candidate body-slams Guardian reporter in Montana’ I did what I believe most other sensible humans did: I laughed in near disbelief. Not that I was laughing at reporter Ben Jacobs for what happened to him, rather I laughed because, deep down, I knew the chance for this to be a reality in 2017 was higher than ever.

And then again, the next day, when I got another notification on my phone that read ‘Republican candidate Gianforte wins House race despite assault charge’ I couldn’t help but let out faint laughter. It’s interesting that for both of these news notifications I didn't even feel the need to search for further verification or evidence to support Jacobs’ story because it is expected at this point. 2017 is nearing its halfway mark, but it feels like we’ve packed four years in just a few months. So many political events happen in hour spans nowadays, my political fatigue feels worse than my election season fatigue was a few months ago.

In relation to a reporter getting body-slammed, that’s terrible. It’s indignant, it’s inappropriate, and it’s wild. But it is not surprising. I’ve been reporting, recording interviews, and at the front lines of several events for journalism-related reasons for several years now and I’ve seen wild things happen. I've seen a reporter at a KKK rally in Stone Mountain, Georgia get pepper-sprayed by a white supremacist for asking him a question; I've watched a news anchorman get spit on by protesters in North Carolina who had repeatedly asked him to get the cameras out of their faces. I myself, along with 5 other activist-journalists, was screamed at, shoved, threatened, and hit while being dragged out of a Trump rally in Atlanta last year. Needless to say, none of these actions are justified, but they are becoming more and more common and have become threats that we as journalists and reporters need to look out for.

I am interested in both the outcry and outcome of this body-slamming incident. Specifically, the racial optics of it all. Will the assault charges against the Republican politician hold up, or will they be dropped? And if they do hold up, will it affect his career? While it is wrong that Jacobs was slammed to the ground for simply asking a question, I have to wonder where all of this outcry is coming from. Is it the politicized nature of this incident occurring in our society’s current vacuum of Democrats weaponizing anything and any body against the boogeyman that is Trump that has made this incident so salacious to the liberals?

Because I know that videos, not just mere audio as in this case, surface daily of Black people being abused by various actors of the state. Two years ago in Texas, we all remember when a video went viral of young Black children barely in their teens being body-slammed, dragged around, sat on, have a gun pointed at them by a police officer; a grand jury in 2016 decided not to indict the officer on assault charges. And we can recall another video which went viral last year that showed an officer in a classroom violently snatch a young Black girl from her desk and body-slam her to the ground after slinging her around the classroom; the officer was suspended, then relocated. Just last month, we saw a video of an officer slamming a Black man who was stopped for jaywalking. Earlier this month a video surfaced of a high school student in Pittsburgh being put in a headlock and dragged down a hallway by an officer. These videos surface almost weekly at this point, and are all detestable, horrifying insights into the most harsh realities of surviving while Black.  My question is, where is the outrage from the Democratic establishment? If Mr. Jacobs’ slamming was a perfect optic for weaponization against the Republicans, causing an uproar of Democrat politicians, congressmen, and commentators using the moment as a tool for a political agenda, where is this same reaction from the videos of Black bodies, especially Black children, being slammed and abused? Do they not fit into the narrow narrative of “resistance” against the Republican party the Democrats have spent several months waging now?

I guess the essence of my intrigue with body-slam-gate is the obvious and laughable use of such an incident like this to play into the false political binary we’re being fed. The boogeyman of Trump, and the demons in our nightmares that are said to be his cabinet, versus the shining light of sainthood that is the Democratic party, with folks like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton being propped up as the intersectional imperialist, benevolent icons. Not to say that Trump’s cabinet isn’t evil and doing the devil’s work, but I don’t know that we can say the Democrats have a history of being much better, and that it isn’t detestable that they use situations of assault and abuse of reporters as weaponization methods to secure political gain. In perpetuating this political binary where all energy must be directed against the Republicans, it allows for the massive critiques of the Democratic Party that people have to be silenced or ignored, and it allows for situations like body-slammed reporters to be commodified for political gain.

The same liberals who denounced ANTIFA action against Alt-Right white supremacists, those who are praising Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter, are now pouring out in disbelief. The hyper-masculinist right wing are praising and joking about Gianforte’s body-slam moment, and it actually won him the election, meanwhile liberal Democrats have been demonizing and condemning ANTIFA anti-fascist action for a year now. Seems a bit… confusing, doesn’t it? Had we had more organized, supported anti-fascist action occurring regularly the Alt-Right wouldn’t feel as emboldened to body slam innocent reporters. It is important to understand that without some strengthening, anti-fascist, anti-racist resistance being built - one which is based on working class, intersectional coalition resistance to rightwing violence - the body-slamming of reporters will just be the beginning of increasing trends of violence against the press. And as of right now, the Democrats simply are more interested in creating boogeymen to look good next to, rather than building that true anti-fascist, anti-racist resistance.

When audio of reporters getting body-slammed causes more of an uproar in liberal politics than actual Black bodies being abused and dragged weekly, and that large uproar is mostly performative for the sake of a political chess game, we have a problem. As a member of the press, someone who works in media, someone who understand the reality of a reporter’s body-slam as a laughably believable event, I wonder if the same thing happened to me would the uproar pursue? Would the headlines say ‘Republican Body-Slams Black Individual at Rally’ or would they still say ‘Republican Body-Slams Reporter For Asking Question?’ Would the headlines and uproar afterwards depend on how well the Democrats could weaponize what [hypothetically] happened to me against the Republicans, and if it wasn’t an opportunity for them to do so, would they care at all? And what would the reaction to an event like this look like had it not been at the time of a Trump presidency breaking all boundaries and barriers for what kind of respectability a US presidency is supposed to exist within?

The political shit-show that is 2017 is just getting started, sadly. My final thoughts on this body-slam situation? In a world where this kind of violence from rightwing actors is becoming not only common but normalized and aided through a large portion of liberals condemning direct action that seeks to stop it, I can only wait and see what is in store for me. I will say what we say in my community when someone has tried you, or when it’s time to fight: I wish a nigga would.