As hundreds of Black residents in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson march into another day of protests against the murder of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown; a threatened, but still open, Internet thrust the story into widespread, necessary visibility. It’s one of the reasons that keeping the Internet open is not an abstract issue for me as a Black person living in America, but a life or death one.
From digital activism that echoes local demands for police accountability, to the humbling bravery of Black bloggers that have traveled to Ferguson to speak truth to power–the open Internet is a critical battleground where Black communities can connect across geographic lines, fight media misrepresentation, and oppose the police violence we find in every city, in our own voices.
#Ferguson, and moments like this one that lay this nation’s greatest contradictions at our feet, is the reason a new generation of African American change-makers are demanding that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassify the Internet as a common carrier service. Too often, our lives depend on our ability to tell stories of the abuse of power, without interference from corporate gatekeepers.
As the people of Ferguson join the ranks of cities across the country raising their hands in civil disobedience against the systemic abuse of Black bodies by law enforcement agencies, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is considering network neutrality rules that would force Black Twitter and Black blogs to enter the conversation on police brutality through a digital “poor door”; their content tracked into a digital slow lane by expedient, piecemeal regulation that lets the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) discriminate through a pay-to-play scheme called paid prioritization.
I would ask you to imagine the impact of an Internet with the legal right to discriminate; if you’re Black, though, I think you already know. Black cable isn’t bringing the story of police brutality in Ferguson to your kitchen table, the Black Internet is.
On the afternoon of Aug. 9, a police officer fatally shot an unarmed, black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Details remain in dispute. Eyewitnesses have said that Brown was compliant with police and was shot while he had his hands up. Police maintain that the 18-year-old had assaulted an officer and was reaching for the officer’s gun. One thing clear, however, is that Brown’s death follows a disturbingly common trend of black men being killed, often while unarmed and at the hands of police officers, security guards and vigilantes.
After news of Brown’s death broke, media-watchers carefully followed the narratives that news outlets began crafting about the teenager and the incident that claimed his life. Wary of the controversy surrounding the media’s depiction of Trayvon Martin — the Florida teen killed in a high-profile case that led to the acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman — people on Twitter wondered, “If they gunned me down, which picture would they use?” Using the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, users posted side-by-side photos, demonstrating the power that news outlets wield in portraying victims based on images they select.
On Monday, Twitter user LordSWVP tweeted out a photo driving home another point: Media treatment of black victims is often harsher than it is of whites suspected of crimes, including murder.
Local store owner is aided by Ferguson community in the aftermath of his store being looted:
I had to immediately come over here, and I tried to get into the area. I couldn’t get into the area because the whole area was blocked. And I was like, ‘People are robbing my store, can I just go and put some boards on it?’ They did try, but then in the middle they changed their mind and said no, it’s too risky or something, please wait. They took my information and told me they’re going to call me as soon as the area is clean. That was about 1:45, 3:45 a.m., I’m just waiting.
Nobody calls me, so I just decide to come over. So I get here around 5, 5:30 a.m. There are a few people outside, some reporters were outside too, but the whole store was open, people could come in and out and take what they want at their leisure.
So that’s on the sad part. The good part is the people who were out here were waiting outside, they wanted to help me. So as soon as I got here, they said ‘Can I help you? Can I do this, can I do that?’ I wanted to take my time and clean as part of my therapy, as part of dealing with the situation. But some of them would not leave unless they did something to help, unless they got a hug or something. So that was very overwhelming, I didn’t think I’d come in there to be so overwhelmed by the community. So that’s very sweet.
We the undersigned Palestinian individuals and groups express our solidarity with the family of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man gunned down by police on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri. We wish to express our support and solidarity with the people of Ferguson who have taken their struggle to the street, facing a militarized police occupation.
From all factions and sectors of our dislocated society, we send you our commitment to stand with you in your hour of pain and time of struggle against the oppression that continues to target our black brothers and sisters in nearly every aspect of their lives.
We understand your moral outrage. We empathize with your hurt and anger. We understand the impulse to rebel against the infrastructure of a racist capitalist system that systematically pushes you to the margins of humanity.
And we stand with you.
We recognize the disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life endemic to the supremacist system that rules the land with wanton brutality. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight our own battles for basic human dignities. We continue to find inspiration and strength from your struggles through the ages and your revolutionary leaders, like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale and others.
We honor the life of Michael Brown, cut short less than a week before he was due to begin university. And we honor the far too many more killed in similar circumstances, motivated by racism and contempt for black life: Ezell Ford, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tarika Wilson, Malcolm Ferguson, Renisha McBride, Amadou Diallo, Yvette Smith, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston, Rekia Boyd and too many others to count.
With a Black Power fist in the air, we salute the people of Ferguson and join in your demands for justice.
“We also have to talk about the narrative and making sure that we’re starting at the beginning. You’ll find that the people doing the oppressing always want to start the narrative at a convenient part, or always want to start the story in the middle. This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours. I’ve never seen a white body left in the street for four hours in the sweltering heat. The cop doesn’t call in the shooting, the body isn’t put in an ambulance, it’s shuttled away in some shady unmarked SUV.
There’s a lot of bizarre behavior going on and that is the story, that’s where we need journalism. That’s where we need that element of society to kick into gear and not just keep playing a loop of what the kid may have done in a convenience store. That’s unfortunate, if that happened, that’s going to be factored in, like it or not. But we need journalism to kick in and start telling the story from the beginning, this is about finding justice for a kid that was shot, an 18-year-old that was shot, period.
This idea that because he stole a handful of cheap cigars, what’s that $5? I’ve lived in white suburbs of this country for a long time, I know plenty of white kids who steal stuff from a convenience store. [There’s] this idea that every time a black person does something, they automatically become a thug worthy of death when we don’t own drug crimes. We’re not the only ones who sell and do drugs all the time. We’re not the only ones that steal and talk crazy to cops.
There’s a complete double standard and a complete different experience that a certain element of this country has the privilege of being treated like human beings, and the rest of us are not treated like human beings, period. That needs to be discussed, that’s the story. That’s what gets frustrating for people — because you don’t know five black folks, five black men in particular, that have not been harassed and felt threatened by police officers. You can’t throw a rock and find five of them. We’re not making this up.”
Do you want to show support for Michael Brown and Ferguson? Some helpful advice.
Janee Woods lists 12 things white people can do in the wake of Ferguson. If you’re like, interested in fighting racism. If you’re not, and you’d rather things just remain the same, then do nothing. If you choose option #2, just know this: you’re a grade A asshole.
Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults, finds that the public overall is divided over whether Brown’s shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves: 44% think the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
There was some caution tape draped around the Love sign in Philadelphia two days ago. Yellow ribbon hung loosely beneath the iconic statue, the one with the “O” tilted just so, in Love Park, northwest of City Hall. In front of the sign, Keith Wallace wore a white t-shirt and blue jeans, a baseball hat in his left hand. An all-American uniform. His t-shirt was stained with what appeared to be blood. His right hand was palm-down on the pavement. His right ear was pressed up against the ground, his face looking back at the statue. Nearby, two individuals took turns holding a poster that read: Call Us By Our Names.
Wallace, 27, is a Philadelphia native. He went to Morehouse College and is pursuing an MFA in acting at the University of California, San Diego. He staged this hour-long silent performance on his last day home for the summer as a protest against the killing of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager who was shot multiple times and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
“It was something that’s been brewing for a while in my mind,” Wallace told me by phone. He was sick of seeing so many news reports about the murders of young black men. “You realize, in these cases, there’s a disproportionate amount of black men on the receiving end of this police brutality. And as a young black men, it strikes a different chord for me – it hits a little closer to home.”
“I just tried to think about a way I could use my spirit of activism coupled with my artistic passion to make a statement about what’s going on. So I just decided that for me, I’m a very image-driven artist. I think images speak louder than words can, most times. And so there’s some value in forcing a society to look at the most ugly parts of itself and just putting it out there for them to examine and discussed, and to be disgusted by, in the hopes of provoking some sort of dialogue or provoking some social change in an effort to eradicate some social ill, whatever that is.”
He settled on the rallying cry of “Call Us By Our Names” because “We hear about Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown. But there’s a slew of other faces and names who go unrecognized and unnamed,” he said. “And the media is slanted in cases where the victim is of color, passing them off as thugs, or gang- and drug-related. When it’s someone who is white, they’re ‘troubled’ or ‘disturbed.’”
Wallace also wanted to ensure he reached the biggest cross-section of people in the short span of time that he had. “I chose a place that has a very diverse community. All types of people come through Love Park. There was a Ukrainian protest the same day. There were Hebrew Israelites with a megaphone on the corner… I wanted to bring this to a group of people who I feel like might not experience this through the same lens that I do.”
He was expecting the police to make him leave within five or ten minutes. In a kind of inverse-Ferguson situation, the police instead respected Wallace’s right to peacefully protest; they stayed on the periphery “to make sure I was safe,” said Wallace, and shook hands when the protest was over.
Wallace enlisted two of his friends, Felicia Roche and Lee Colston II, to join him; they took turns holding up the poster and takin
g photographs. He couldn’t hear everything that passersby said and, as he spent the entire hour “motionless: I didn’t speak to anyone, I didn’t look at anyone.”
“Honestly, some of the things that were said were so ugly. And I’ve dealt with these kinds of issues before, and you hear about it all the time, but when it’s right in front of your face, it takes on a whole new reality. In trying to open other people’s eyes, my eyes were open, I had this complete revelation about this world we live in.”
Wallace had a sheet of paper handed out during his protest. As Philly in Focus reported, some of his statement read:
“I am racially charged not because I want to be, but because I have to be. I am racially charged because in certain instances, that hyper awareness may ensure that I make it home to my family at the end of the day. I am racially charged because I am not afforded the luxury to wander through life with my head in the (nonexistent) ‘post-racial America’ clouds. I see color because my color is seen, dismissed, devalued, and implicated as a threat everywhere I go. I am racially charged and if I make you uncomfortable by speaking out about it and calling attention to it, then I implore you to eradicate the ugliness I see every day in the world.”
St. Louis local news is reporting that the Attorney for the Ferguson store, Jake Kanzler said the the Ferguson store owner, nor any store employee called the police to report any shoplifting of cigars, but, rather, a customer called the police.