domingo, 1 de enero de 2012

A Message From Spanish Police and Media to the Masses

For those of you who read my post from 9 days ago titled "A New Indignado", I intended to write a "New Indignado Part II."  I wanted to tell the story of my frustration after 9 days, the fact that nobody apart from my closest friends and the Indignados themselves would even listen to me, and the fact that even my own embassy seems uninterested in my case.  But after letting a week and a half pass and engaging in exercises of relaxation and meditation in a futile attempt to dampen my indignation, I believe I am now ready to talk about the Elephant in the Room.

My brother advised me to try to connect my stories, videos and anecdotes of this new blog to larger social issues.  And so, following his advice, I would like to put my case behind me (not that I am not interested to know if the 4 men dressed in black on December 22 who accosted and insulted me in Tirso de Molina were actual cops) and move on to something much more important -- and that is this:  

If you are not member of the exclusive 1% club, then the police, the media, and yes even your own government do not give one iota of a FUCK about you....


Wow, that feels good getting that off my chest!  Perhaps it was bit fuerte as they say here in Spain, but absolutely true I must believe after my frightening experience.  Let us start with the Madrid Police, shall we?  Now let me remind everyone that 9 days ago, my brother and I were surrounded, accosted and insulted by 4 men claiming to be officers of the law.  To this day, we still have no idea if these men were actually policemen.  Nobody, and I mean nobody here in Madrid, will listen to my complaints.  I have gone to a comisaria and tried to place a denuncia or at least get some help, and I was shuffled out the door.  I have written about my story (in English no less) and more than 14,000 Spaniards have read it and commented on it, yet not one police officer has contacted me, and the Chief of Police who I spoke to refused to take my declaration.

Madrid Police, please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the message you are communicating is this.

"Dear immigrants and foreigners in Madrid: FUCK YOU!  We do not give a FUCK about you! We will insult you with impunity simply because we do not like you, because we do not like your politics, language or religion; or perhaps because we do not like what you are carrying on your person.  Oh yeah, and be forewarned that if you complain about this, not ONE FUCKING PERSON in the police or government will care.  This shit happens all the time, and that's why we get away with it every day.  So FUCK OFF and toe the line or suffer the consequences."

Did I get that about right?  (Disclaimer, if someone in the Madrid Police is actually investigating my claim, if there is some officer in Spanish IA, or some angel among the Cuerpo de Policia who is actually trying to do the right thing, please forgive my histrionics.)


Where do I start?  This could easily be its own blog post, or even another blog altogether, but following my brother's advice about larger social issues, I beg you, please allow me the opportunity to connect the dots.  I have the fortune to count among my friends a fantastic journalist from "El Pais" named Jose Maria Irujo.  We go way back, I have taught English to him and his family for the better part of the past decade.  A few days before my brother and I were terrorized by 4 undercover Madrid Police officers back on December 22,  we had the opportunity to have lunch at his home with him and his family.  The conversation was "lively" to say the least, and after many heated exchanges, we agreed to meet up again over the holidays to continue the talk.  My contention (and my brother's) was that the Media in Spain (and all over the world) were too busy making money and following the lead of their masters to report real news.  Yes, "El Pais" is probably Spain's best newspaper, infinitely better than say "El Mundo", which still thinks it important to remind us every few issues that perhaps ETA was behind the attacks that left hundreds of Madrileños dead back in 2004, but still not what I would consider a "serious" newspaper (don't fret Jose Maria, I wouldn't call any of the major papers "serious" either.)

My journalist friend found it very difficult to separate my criticism of his employer, from that of his writing.  The former I find a joke, the latter absolutely fantastic, yet each time I criticized his paper and the kind of "news" that it reports, he took it personally.  It even came to the point when he asked if we thought he was stupid, as only a stupid person would write for a newspaper that manipulated the news, told stories only to make money, attract readers, fan the flames of controversy, and pick on the enemy of the day.  (No, we don't think that you are stupid.  We think you should be proud of your writing, it is some of the best reporting in Spain that we have read, and furthermore, we think that "El Pais" and other major media outlets in Spain should be ashamed of themselves.)  Just like when I criticize the Madrid Police, I am criticizing the institution and the culture of impunity that exists within it, not the officers who carry out their duties in a professional way day in and day out under very difficult circumstances. So let me be perfectly clear here: there are often great and responsible individuals in any institution, but that does not make the institution itself (in this case, the police and media) free from criticism of how it operates.

And with that little conversation in mind, I contacted my enchufe in the Spanish press and decided to put his and my contentions to the test.

Before I continue, allow me to compare and contrast.  If you take a glance at the past 6 or 7 stories that my good friend Mr. Irujo has published for "El Pais", you will find some interesting things.  Let me describe 3 of them to illustrate my point.

From back at the beginning of October we had ....

¿Hay policías islamistas?

From November 12 we had ....

La música es la flauta de Satán

And from November 27....

Expedientados los padres de la niña del 'burka' por abandono escolar

Ok, so 3 stories, one about whether or not the Spanish Police is made up of agents who actually reflect the population of Spain.  We wait with breathless anticipation for the follow up stories on whether or not there are homosexuals, wife beaters, alcoholics, Opus Dei members, those who yearn for the return of Franco, etc. in the Police.  I mean why stop at Islamists?  Or do I really need to ask this question?

Another story is about a family whose religious beliefs forbid certain school subjects that are prevalent in Spanish schools?  Again, we wait for part II on the Christian Amish in my state of Indiana who cannot even use electricity, mobile phones or drive a car due to their religious beliefs.  Or the Christian Evangelicals all over the world who are forbidden to learn traditional folk dancing.  But, they are not Muslim, so I'm not so sure if "El Pais" would be interested.

And finally the Granddaddy of them all, the teenage girl who wants to dress differently from her classmates -- a story that takes place in every high school in every town around the world.  Wow!  Please send me your expose on the boy who wants a mohawk, the Goth girl, and those crazy kids in my country who think they are vampires.  But really, "El Pais" is not going to tell us about them, because they aren't Muslim, and demonizing Muslims is what sells papers nowadays, right?  And these anti-Muslim (anti-immigrant, anti-Indignado) stories create a certain type of readership who return to the kioskos again and again for more of the same diet of hate.

So, I put my computer in front of Mr. Irujo and let him read my post "A New Indignado."  He was interested.  Of course, he could not report on it as I was a friend and a member of the family, but he would pass me on to a hungry young gun who would get the word out.  Finally!  Somebody was going to listen to me.  I told my story, and heard nothing back, not an email, not a phone call, not even a thanks-a-lot-but-we-are-not-interested.  A few days later, my friend Mr. Irujo called me with some "interesting" news.  Interesting to me, I must say, because "El Pais" did not find it interesting at all.

Here is a script of our telephone conversation, as I remember it.  I have embellished certain things because I did not record it, because I am working from memory, and because I fully recognize that my blog posts "spin" the news (as do any media).  The meat and bones (the gist) of the conversation is as written.

JMI:  Richard, I'm sorry.  I spoke to some of the guys at "El Pais."  They just aren't interested in your story.

RS:  Well, that doesn't surprise me.  I told you that the Spanish Media were not interested in reporting real news.  Thanks for trying.

JMI:  It's not that it isn't a terrible thing that happened to you.  It just isn't news.  My editor told me that this kind of stuff goes on all over Spain hundreds of times every day.  It's not anything worth mentioning.

RS:  Really, you mean to tell me that foreigners and immigrants are stopped, searched, forbidden to call their attorneys, insulted with the most disgusting language possible, and then laughed off by the officers and a Police Chief when they ask for identification or some kind of an explanation, and this happens every day hundreds of times all over Spain, and that is not newsworthy?

JMI:  Your story is not newsworthy.

RS:  I am no longer interested in my story.  I agree with you, mine is a non-story compared to what you have just told me.  Let me get this straight, all that stuff I just said about cops and foreigners goes on every day hundreds of times all over Spain, and that is NOT news.

JMI:  That's not what I said.....

etc. etc. etc. etc.

The conversation went on for half an hour, and even a call back.  Voices were raised, regretful things were said (I know I regret some of the things I said, and I hope you forgive me Jose Maria), but the conversation went nowhere.  In the end, "El Pais", through my good friend Jose Maria Irujo, confirmed my contention that:

If you are not member of the exclusive 1% club, then the police, the media, and yes even your own government do not give one iota of a FUCK about you....

So readers, let me end my post with this thought.  Spain's leading newspaper openly admits to the fact that immigrants are regularly treated abysmally and illegally by the police, that there is absolutely no recourse whatsoever for the marginalized as the Police can, will, and do refuse to ID themselves, and that the buddy-buddy backscratching system means they can do this without any fear of repercussions whatsoever, is not news.  In fact, this is so ingrained in Spanish society that it is considered normal.  I guess the tourism slogan is true after all -- "Spain is Different!"

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