The Ferguson Effect: Social media and its impact from Ferguson to now
Michael Brown. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. These names made national headlines after social media erupted across the country about the injustices of their deaths.
But, before these names and places made it to the news, social media brought awareness from all parts of the United States about police brutality.
Research from The Washington Post shows over 500 people have died in the hands of law enforcement in the last year.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi were three of the 12 panelists to discuss race, education, immigration and community policy on Thursday morning at the National Association of Black and Hispanic Journalists’ convention in Washington D.C.
Ajayi asked in the panel on social media, “Is racism worse or is it just now being videotaped? I think it’s being videotaped.”
Two years ago, Police Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Missouri. After Brown’s death, tensions rose across the city and the nation.
Brown and his friend went to a local store to purchase cigars and left after a brief confrontation with the store owner. Shortly after, Brown and his friend encountered Wilson.
According to an official report by the Department of Justice, 12 rounds were fired and Brown was hit six times.
A bystander recorded the shooting, but there were questions about the quality and timing of the video footage, which the police force used to defend their statements.
From this point forward, the “Ferguson Effect” took place. The Ferguson effect is the idea that police scrutiny contributes to the rising murder and violence rate in major US cities.
The nation erupted in protests beginning with a 4-minute moment of silence to honor every hour Brown’s body lay uncovered on the ground.
“We are not born woke, something has to wake us up,” activist DeRay McKesson said. Ferguson is what woke the nation up.
SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGING HISTORY
Before Brown, there was Rodney King, an unarmed motorist who was viciously beaten on camera by Los Angeles police officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind on March 3, 1991 following a high-speed chase.
In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator after Zimmerman called local law enforcement and said Martin looked suspicious.
When it seemed as though every week there was a new name being hashtagged, some members of the African-American community made it a point to prove the wrongdoing of local police officers. This led to the birth of the hashtag, Black Lives Matter (BLM). The hashtag turned into an activist movement that seeks to put an end to violence against black people.
Sandra Bland, was found hung in her jail cell after being pulled over for a traffic violation in 2015. Philando Castile was fatally shot on July 6, 2016 after being pulled over. After Castile told the officer that he was carrying a weapon on him, he was shot and killed following the officer’s instructions to not move. And in 2014, Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold in New York City over suspicion of selling loose cigarettes.
In the past 5 years, Alton Sterling, Tamar Rice, Freddie Gray and John Crawford have all suffered fates under similar circumstances.
Although the names have changed over the years, the narrative seems to remain consistent as African-Americans continue to suffer deaths at the hands of law enforcement.
Due to the expanding nature of technology, these officer-involved interactions are now subject to be documented through social media. Because of the advent of social media, one can now see the interaction between African-American men and law enforcement prior to their final moments.
Although each situation requires due process and must be investigated, social media has become utilized as a tool to help hold law enforcement liable for instances where police producers may have been misused when handling interactions between citizens.
An example of the upside of social media helping to hold law enforcement accountable can be found in the recent shooting of Charles Kinsey. Kinsey, a mental health therapist, was shot by North Miami law enforcement while lying on his back with his hands up. Kinsey was working to mediate a situation between officers and his 23 year-old autistic patient. After Kinsey was shot, he said that he lay on the ground for 20-minutes without receiving medical attention before being handcuffed.
Following the shooting of Kinsey, one could ascertain that this interaction would be classified as another African-American being shot by law enforcement. However, further investigation highlighted other information about the case which included the fact that law enforcement had intended to shoot the 23 year-old autistic patient after refusing to comply with orders. Whether complying with orders by law enforcement or failing to comply with others, social media has added to the conversation by shining more light on examining the actions of law enforcement.
More supporters are relying heavily on social media and following prominent activists like Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie and Feminista Jones rely less on news outlets to get a better picture of the whole story. Supporters and non supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement can see the raw and uncut images and videos circulating online to form their opinion. That has given this community confidence in communication thus, a greater chance of creating change.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch took office the same day of Freddie Gray’s funeral. She believes there is power in publicizing these issues.
Lynch said, “If we don’t tell our story, someone else will.”
Social media has become utilized as a tool to help hold law enforcement liable for instances where police producers may have been misused when handling interactions between citizens. It does not guarantee that this information presented through an investigation and the courts due process will give these victims justice or closure.
In this recent case of Freddie Gray, the six officers involved will not be facing time in jail. Since Brown’s death, there has been more conversations on police brutality, policing, body cameras and the ferguson effect but there is still more work to be done.