Monday, May 18, 2009

The Beach in Black and White

Every year, it's the same old, same old.

One weekend a year thousands of predominantly minority Mobile, Alabama, residents gather on Pensacola Beach. County law enforcement officers double- and triple-team them. A handful of arrests are made, mostly for underage drinking and traffic offenses. Santa Rosa Island Authority officers wring their hands and shake their heads in dismay. And then, the Internet message boards mavens hit the keyboards to whip out racist rubbish.

This year, it seems, Thyrie Bland got the assignment to write it up as sensationally as possible. Here's the lede:
What started out as a day of hanging at the beach ended Sunday with fights, arrests and deputies telling everyone to leave.
Sounds like the cops had to stop a riot, doesn't it? You have to drill down 27 paragraphs -- 27 of 'em! -- before learning "Rain started shortly after noon. Lifeguards warned the beachgoers to seek shelter because of lightning." Seven paragraphs later, we're told "The rain didn't last long, and some of the cars that left the beach returned."

"Some." Got it?

Here's a boiled-down summary of Bland's news reporting about all the visitor villainy on the beach this nail-biting day (all direct quotes):
  • By 11:30 a.m., the parking lots at Fort Pickens gate had filled with vehicles.
  • Some people headed to the gathering had to park in the Casino Beach parking lot and walk to the Fort Pickens gate.
  • Before deputies began clearing the Casino Beach parking lot on Sunday, some of the young people began to get unruly.
  • [T]here was a fight that involved five women in the Casino Beach lot.
  • After the fight, someone threw money in the air, and people began pushing and shoving as they tried to grab the money.
  • A disc jokey played hip-hop tunes as young men tried to talk to girls strolling through the parking lots in colorful bathing suits.
  • Others walked to the beach to take pictures as waves crashed on the shore and dark clouds formed in the sky.
  • By late Sunday afternoon, the crowd that had gathered at Fort Pickens had made its way to the Casino Beach area.
To be sure, our annual Mobile visitors leave behind "huge amounts of trash, including cans, beer cartons, plastic bottles and cups." So, too, do the mostly-Caucasian bubbas who annually trash the beach after the Mardi Gras parade, the Blue Angels show, and on the Fourth of July. If tourist-generated trash on the beach is newsworthy, it ought to be reported every weekend.

Yes, some Mobile revelers got smashed or probably high, and engaged in juvenile fisticuffs. The media doesn't cover it as breathlessly, but such misbehavior -- and worse -- also happens during the several March and April weekends when predominantly Caucasian college jocks descend on Pensacola Beach for "Spring Break."

Look, we don't care for hip-hop any more than we like country music, acid rock -- or The Osmonds, for that matter. We deplore the way most tourists come to the beach for its natural beauty and leave it looking like an Indonesian city dump. Drinking to excess, drugs, and stupid street fighting are despicable everywhere, not just on the annual weekend Mobile young people customarily beach it in Pensacola.

But all those things happen every day on every beach in America. It has nothing to do with race and only a tenuous connection with age.

There were two ways to cover yesterday's beach event. One was the sensationalist way the News Journal did it. The other was to report that other than a brief fight and the usual minor drinking busts, Mobile grads had a good time on the beach until the rain began to fall.

There is no other way to say this: The Pensacola media, the News Journal included, shamelessly sensationalize the "Mobile graduates" weekend and encourage, however inadvertently, the baser instincts of a racialist public.


Anonymous said...

This town is its own worst enemy. The so called journalist thrive on everything negative. Not that something shouldn't be covered but don't hold your breath for a keep the beach clean awareness article covered by the same so called journalist to protect, appreciate and to keep the beach clean and safe. Whether blue angels weekend, 4th of July or memorial day.

Because even some white picknickers leave trash, beer cans and cigarette butts behind.

BLehman said...

Beach news coverage is very prejudiced. I never read about all the white drunks and druggies at big business conventions on the beach. Even the rapes and suicides get covered up. Conventions of white people mean money. Local residents and poor blacks hauling their coolers for a day at the beach don't.