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General News    H4'ed 2/4/15

Texas Journalist Embraces 'Red State Rage'

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Message Mark Hand

Contemporary America scares journalist Candice Bernd. The government and its massive surveillance apparatus scare her as does the power of Corporate America and its marriage with the state. And then there are the federal, state and local police forces that commit brutal violence on a daily basis without any real accountability. Topping it off is a future likely defined by catastrophic climate change.

But don't think for a moment that these fears mean Bernd is backing down from covering topics the powers that be would prefer she ignore. In fact, Bernd's ability to confront her fears about the world around her is a trait that has helped make her an even better journalist. Whether it's fear of police retaliation for her investigative reports or a general fear of an increasingly toxic planet, she's not letting these concerns get in the way of her reporting.

"It's not a deterrent," she said in an interview. "The more I get scared, the more I want to do the work I'm doing. Fear is part of courage. To be courageous in reporting or to be courageous in whatever way you choose to challenge power, it's okay to admit that you actually are scared. But you move forward despite that. That's what real courage is."

Bernd, who lives and works in Denton, Texas, has covered a wide range of issues, from the nation's prison-industrial complex to police violence to government and corporate whistleblowers. "You want to expose problems that are going to lead to an impact," she emphasized. "That's what we all hope to do. We hope that we're going to make an impact on the world. To not acknowledge that is very silly. Why else would you want to be a journalist?"

In 2014, Bernd wrote an investigative piece for independent news outlet Truthout on groups such as CopWatch and Cop Block that proactively monitor police brutality and violence. She found that in several states, organized groups that use police scanners and knowledge of checkpoints to collectively monitor police activities by filming cops on duty have said they've experienced retaliation, including detainment and arrests as well as police intimidation.

The article made a splash across the country, and in California, the piece is being used in an ethics class for police chiefs, sheriffs and command staff as part of the California Department of Justice's Peace Officer Standards and Training program.

In another article, one that Truthout published prior to widely publicized police violence against African Americans in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City helped spark a nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, Bernd captured police misconduct from a different angle: sexual assaults. In her research, Bernd found that sexual assault is rampant in the law enforcement community and that the problem is worse than many people believe because cases are made public only when survivors report an attack, or when officers get caught by some other means. In reality, there are likely dozens more cases per month that go unreported.

"Even before Ferguson, I was focusing on these issues," Bernd noted. "Police issues are something I've always been interested in."

A Multimedia Muckraker

Bernd, in her career, has shown an interest in shining a light on the powerful using various types of media. Along with her current position as an assistant editor and reporter for Truthout, Bernd has served as a radio journalist and worked on documentary film projects. She is co-writing Don't Frack With Denton, a documentary chronicling the anti-fracking movement in her home town, with her partner, Garrett Graham.

Candice Bernd
Candice Bernd
(Image by Candice Bernd)
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"There's a lot to convey in films that I can't quite get in writing. I can convey to a certain extent in writing and try to paint a scene," she said. "But when you see someone breaking down in tears on film, that level of emotion is difficult to convey in writing."

Bernd's accomplishments -- and her enthusiasm for going after the tough story -- would put to shame many journalists who are decades her senior. At 24, Bernd's success at a relatively young age is a testament to her dedication to the craft.

Old media was long in decline when Bernd entered college at the University of North Texas in Denton. And yet Bernd did not hesitate to make journalism her field of study. "I've always been good in a writing capacity. And then in high school I discovered this love of politics and challenging authority, and you put those things together, you get a journalist," she said.

Like most millennials, Bernd scoffs at commentators who seek to equate her generation with narcissism and entitlement. Millennials have faced major barriers to housing and jobs, and they've been forced to take on an ever-increasing debt burden in order to go to college. "When I talk to people my age, there's a real sense of powerlessness and helplessness. And it lends itself to a kind of apathy and nihilism," Bernd said.

Despite the negative stereotypes, millennials were strongly represented in Occupy Wall Street and have energized other 21st century social and environmental justice movements. But with Occupy, they witnessed first-hand how federal and local governments quashed the movement. "That really disheartened a lot of young people," Bernd explained.

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Mark Hand is a veteran journalist who covers political action, energy and the environment.

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