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July 10, 2016

Kevin Hart: 'Don't let the media start a race war'

Philly-born actor warns against divisive turn in national conversation

In the midst of nationwide protests over last week's police killings of minorities and the targeted sniper attack on law enforcement in Dallas, Philadelphia-born actor and comedian Kevin Hart took to social media this weekend to warn against the dangers of a media-fueled "race war."

Hart, an active presence on social media, posted a message on Instagram Friday calling on fellow celebrities to use their platforms to discourage further escalation of civil tension.

The plea comes as protesters in Philadelphia, primarily organized by the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, took their fourth consecutive night of demonstrations to the 25th police district in a heated but otherwise peaceful display of community opposition.

In Baton Rouge, where the killing of 37-year-old Alton Sterling galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, nearly 100 protesters were taken into custody Saturday night. Similar demonstrations in San Francisco, Chicago, St. Paul, and Fort Lauderdale resulted in the closure of major transportation channels as authorities walked a fine line to contain large crowds of people exercising their rights.

Hart's post grapples directly with growing distrust of the motives behind U.S. coverage of the flashpoint deaths of Sterling and 32-year-old Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul. The subsequent attack in Dallas, which left five police officers dead and seven wounded, further complicated a volatile balance of perspectives on racial injustice that are deeply imprinted in American history.

Late last week, rapper Joey Badass aired his suspicion that the U.S. government condones a certain level of civil unrest, seemingly in order to necessitate stricter methods of law enforcement.

"What the government is doing amongst our people is downright disturbing but not surprising," he wrote on Instagram. "With all of the conflict and propaganda, I believe they are simply trying to start a civil war within the USA amongst black & white."

As the nation copes and contends with a magnified surge of violence episodes, the role of public figures becomes increasingly difficult to define. While many possess the profile to influence conversations at a level comparable to media outlets — bound, largely, to a format of factual coverage — celebrities also present a stark contrast to the lives of most working people. In their case, days of collective action are often required to garner sustained attention. At the same time, police officers of all races are typically expected to temper their personal opinions for the sake of maintaining decor in public service.

Is Hart's skepticism of "the media" too simplistic and privileged in its account of how conflicts intensify and divide us? In 2016, when shootings scenes stream first on Facebook and news percolates up from local action, the answer is probably yes. Still, his central message is an important reminder not to place shock value and spin ahead of context and understanding. To the extent that people of all backgrounds participate actively in today's media landscape, agreed: Let's be smarter than that.