Ferguson and New York: The Domino Effect and Role of Social Media

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Annie Roebuck '15 and Greta Parr '18, News Editor and Staff Writer

Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  These names flash across the news station banners on a daily basis.  The issue of race related violence has remained at the forefront of conversation, not only, nationally, but also internationally.  Social media has played a new and unique role in the spread of news and opinions regarding each case and the heated legal proceeding following each death.  On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by white officer Darren Wilson.  Social media was abuzz with conversations about the shootings.  Dozens of witnesses claimed to have seen the confrontation with varying numbers of gunshots.  Others who claimed to witness the events later admitted to only hearing about what they think happened.  Though the police stand by the statement that Brown “charged” at the policeman, other witnesses have testified with conflicting stories.  One of the most debated issues is whether or not Brown had his hands raised up, or partially up, or not up at all.  Further forensic evidence which includes Brown’s blood inside the police car would support the claim that Brown did not, in fact, put his hands up and assaulted the police officer.  The debate continues on and on.  But was lethal force really necessary in this situation, or is this another example of white police officers using unjustifiable methods on black civilians?  The fact is that there is really no clear answer.  The media hype surrounding the grand jury decision regarding Darren Wilson exploded when they chose not to indict him on any charge.  Still there are questions into the motivations of Prosecutor Bob McCulloch who lead the investigation.

Shortly after this announcement, protesters in Ferguson took to the streets and did not remain peaceful.  Many were arrested for destruction of property, for example the burning of cop cars took place while the police used tactics like tear gas to try to control the situation.  In major cities across the country including New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, and Philadelphia protests arose with social media acting as a news source of its own.  According to The Wall Street Journal “over 7.8 million tweets have mentioned the hashtag #Ferguson since August 9” and unlike most “hot topic” news stories this one has not faded away within a week or a month.  In November five players for the St. Louis Rams entered the stadium with the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” gesture in order to show support for Brown.  The statement sparked much controversy on news stations and social media where everyone had something to say about it.

Other cases of white police officers using force which ended in a black civilian’s death have come to light.  In New York City, Eric Garner, was a 43-year-old asthmatic and father of six children.  After being approached by police for selling cigarettes illegally, there was a struggle between Garner and several police officers which ended in officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Garner into a chokehold from behind.  The struggle continued and Gardener called out, “I can’t breathe” multiple times.  He was found unresponsive and later died on arrival to Richmond University Medical Center.  Videos of the situation have gone viral on YouTube and news commentators on almost every station have given their input.  “I Can’t Breathe” has sparked movements across racial divisions.  Protests have featured shirts that state “I Can’t Breathe” and celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson have even called out to the public to sing in order to promote awareness and change.

Continued discussions of this issue are ongoing, as are the demonstrations because the world is not a perfect place.  As horrible as these deaths were, they have made people more aware of the racism that exists in the criminal justice system and throughout the United States.  F