Last night, social media was ablaze with a video from a Providence news station depicting a reporter being attacked by a woman, first with rocks, and later with dogs. The opening of the video depicted the Providence Trolley rolling down the street as a reporter approached a fenced home in the East Side neighborhood of the city. It is the same bus that friends and I take to go to the supermarket, the mall and other downtown neighborhoods. As a result, many were shocked to see an African-American woman, essentially one of our neighbors, attacking a reporter. However, the news portrayal of this incident should focus on the reporter's violation of this family's privacy and lead us to question the motives behind her insistence.
Watch the video below:
The reporter for ABC6, Abbey Nizgoda, did not knock on the woman's door, nor ask before the camera started rolling if she would like to discuss the personal tragedy that had just struck her family. Instead, the reporter and camera man simply arrived on her property and began asking if she would like to discuss the shooting of her teenage daughter. "How do you feel about that?" Niezgoda is heard asking the woman, who clearly was not willing to speak on camera. The mother is then heard saying "That's good" and retreating into her yard. But this response was clearly not good enough for the reporter, who continued to attempt to goad the woman into commentary.
After repeatedly shouting "Get away from me!" and throwing rocks at the reporter and cameraman to get them off her property, the mother finally sent her two pitbulls to attack the reporter and cameraman. One of the dogs bit the reporter on the forearm.
The woman's response, not the reporter's insistent, nasty, and predatory actions, are what made the news. Instead of respecting this family's right to privacy, the reporter and news crew essentially harass this mother into giving a comment, which she ultimately refuses to do.
Reading commenting on the Huffington Post's website reacted to the story reflecting a sense of outrage at the reporter's actions:
While not excusing the actions of this parent, I believe that we must place her reaction within the larger context of the two-step process by which news and internet media dehumanize the African-American community (and other minority communities) in their rapacious attempts to get a story, and then to laugh about it. In fact, Slate recently pointed us towards the growing and troubling trend of the "African-American neighbor meme." The author makes reference to Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland man who helped rescue three women who had been kidnapped for 10 years. Now for many the memory of Ramsey's heroic actions is secondary to the viral video that spawned from his interview.
Who can possibly forget the "Bed Intruder" song that became a YouTube and iTunes hit after an Antoine Dodson went on camera to denounce the attempted rape of his sister? Or Sweet Brown's news reel that became synonymous with the cultural aphorism "Ain't Nobody Got Time for That."
These and many other portrayals of black folk in the media leave much to be desired and prompt me to be glad that this mother did not go on camera, lest her family's pain be exploited for a good laugh on the Internet as we speak.
Although those who film the news and those who make internet memes and Autotune videos may not necessarily be directly connected, the inherent racism in the portrayals of African Americans in the news and online "play into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the 'ghetto,' socially out of step with the rest of educated America" according to Aisha Harris of Slate. Perhaps Abbey Niezgoda of ABC6 Providence insisted in perturbing this family during a difficult time because in her subconscious, their right to decency and privacy are non-existent due to their status as minorities in an impoverished community.
In the meantime, the parent has been arraigned on two felony assault charges and is due back in court in August.