It's Baltimore as Gaza in Al Jazeera report on police-community relations

It's Baltimore as Gaza in Al Jazeera report on police-community relations
Correspondent Anjali Kamat in Sandtown reporting for Al Jazeera America's "Baltimore Rising." (Al Jazeera America screengrab)

Al Jazeera America's "Fault Lines" series returns to Baltimore tonight with a hard-eyed look at police-community relations following the death of Freddie Gray April 19 from a neck injury sustained while in police custody.

The 25-minute report with correspondent Anjali Kamat is filled with images of police helicopters hovering overhead and the sound of sirens and citizens describing cops here as an occupying army.


The metaphor: Baltimore as Gaza. And, in case anyone misses that, you have city police described as an "occupation force" and a "legalized gang."

"It is a very dangerous city, because you have this occupation force of the police, but you don't have any co-operation between the police and the citizenry, because of this line of demarcation," Baltimore attorney A. Dwight Pettit says in the report. "Who are the bad guys? The public doesn't know whether the bad guy is Officer Friendly or the bad guy is Johnny Gangster. How do they make a determination?"

Pettit, who is identified in the report as "having represented dozens of victims of alleged police brutality," describes the history of police using excessive force in Baltimore by saying, "This has been going on and on and on, and I'm just talking about the cases that have become high profile."

After the interview with Pettit, Kamat is shown on the streets of Sandtown talking to residents as a police helicopter hovers overhead.

She asks a group of older teens and young adults how common the police helicopters and cases of excessive and/or deadly force are. Everyone starts talking at once with examples.

After the group ticks off several cases of alleged police brutality, one young man says, "The police here are not actually police. ...The police as we know them are an occupying force sent to subjugate and oppress the poor."

Another man says the first word his two-year-old daughter said, was "helicopter," because of the constant presence of them in their lives.

Seemingly on cue, the voice of someone speaking through a bullhorn-like device from the police chopper is heard by Kamat and the citizens she is interviewing. With the chopper dipping lower and lower, they walk around the corner to see what is going on.

What they find are police in a confrontation with residents who have been pepper-sprayed. The police are lined up shoulder to shoulder behind shields.

"Can you tell us, please, has someone been shot?" Kamat asks the police.

"Move away," one officer in riot gear says, waving his baton.

"We are moving back. Did someone get shot?"

"Stop asking questions," the officer says.

"We're not allowed to ask questions?" she says.


It looks as if Kamat and her crew came upon the scene where a man fell on the street and his gun went off -- a widely-publicized and much-discussed scene that Fox News incorrectly reported at the time as a person of color being shot by police as he was running away from them.

"Baltimore Rising" is dramatic storytelling, no doubt about it. And there is certainly context with Kamat and her crew exploring other cases where lawsuits have been filed against the police for use of force - cases involving Abdul Salaam and Tyrone West. They cover a lot of territory in just 25 minutes. Good for them.

Understand there's a point of view and ideology present in Al Jazeera's coverage: It's called Global South, according to Philip Seib, a University of Southern California professor and author of "The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics."

In short, this point of view focuses on and privileges those who have been the victims of the forces of colonialism. While it generally applies to populations of non-European nations south of the Equator, Al Jazeera also sees persons of color in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland as victims as well. (You can read a fuller take on it from me here.)

And maybe this is me being tribal about the Baltimore Sun, but I feel the need to also point out how thoroughly for years the Sun has covered most of the turf visited by "Fault Lines" tonight.

Last week during a discussion I was part of at VICE News on coverage of the civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, another member of the panel asked rhetorically why the Sun had not covered the death of West on Page One as it did Gray.

The suggestion was the Sun only covered the Gray case so intensely because of the civil unrest that followed: Without the civil unrest, West's death wasn't Page One to the Sun. But, in fact, the Sun had 23 Page One stories related to West's death.

"Baltimore Rising" ends on a chilling note.

Kamat starts to ask a man on the streets of Sandtown what's going to happen in Baltimore if the six officers charged are not convicted in the death of Freddie Gray.

"What happened in Sandtown when the officers did what they did to Freddie?" the man asks.

"The world knew about it, right?" he continues answering his own question. "If the officers are not convicted, the world's gonna know it."

"Baltimore Rising" premieres at 10 tonight on Al Jazeera America. See a trailer here.

Al Jazeera America can been seen on Channel 107 on Comcast in the City of Baltimore, as well as Channel 347 on DirecTV and 216 on the DISH Network.