Social media has the power to bring change, but has it?

The video begins and inside the first seconds, an individual shouts: “Why are you putting your hands on him? Stop!”

“He didn’t do anything,” shout a number of individuals. More bystanders start to maintain up their telephones, recording the assault. The man is pushed onto the pavement, face down.

“Get off him!” come ballads of screams, underscored by involuntary sobs, from onlookers. 

“He is saying that he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe!”

The Black man, face down on the floor, is now not respiratory. Police encircle the physique.

The video stops.


The scene above shouldn’t be particular to anyone occasion of police brutality towards Black males. But learn it once more and you’ll keep in mind these names:

Kwame Jones. Malik Williams. Tyree Davis. George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks. David McAtee. Daniel Prude. Jonathan Price.

Blackness will be perceived as a weapon itself by police in America. Skin shade has all too typically turn out to be a justification for complicated a sandwich, pockets, or hairbrush for a gun.

The movies and their dissemination are an more and more vital half of dismantling racism and police brutality. Social media has turn out to be a pillar of activism, aligning closely with social justice, for its distinctive capacity to share information immediately — and in excessive definition video — together with its potential to drive change.

However, that change is basically depending on the willingness of these in power to take motion in the actual, not digital, world.

“Social media has definitely brought the attention to it, but the bottom line is the end result and the end result has been very, very, poor,” mentioned Junius “Jeff” Carter III, the president of the Bergen County NAACP in New Jersey. “You would suppose that with heightened consciousness the circumstances would have stopped.”

They have not.

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In April 1998, four Black and brown men Jarmaine Grant, Danny Reyes, Keshon Moore, and Rayshawn Brown were shot more than 11 times on the New Jersey Turnpike. They had been on their way to a basketball tryout at North Carolina Central University. Social media did not exist then. It wasn’t even a term in the lexicon.

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“The fact that young unarmed Black men have been shot on the turnpike got relatively little attention,” said Kevin Keenan, vice president of Innovation and New Initiatives at the Vera Institute of Justice and former Executive Director at the ACLU-NJ in 1999.

Keenan said the white public has historically not valued nor listened to Black and brown people. But with social media, that has begun to change. Still, he said, the white public is largely separated from and skeptical of the realities faced by Black and brown people.

Social media does not have power in and of itself to do good or harm, said Dr. Mary Chayko, a sociologist and co-chair of the SC&I Social Media and Society Research Cluster School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University.

Social media’s power is derived from people — its owners, creators, and users, Chayko said.

Take the cases of Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old who was fatally shot in the back of the head in North Carolina by an officer serving a drug warrant on April 21; and Duante Wright, 20, who was killed on Sunday, April 11 in Minneapolis during a traffic stop while his girlfriend sat in the passenger seat.

People spread body camera video across social media in both cases, igniting outrage and protests. 

Co-founder and CEO of GoodCall NYC, Jelani Anglin, wants to stop innocent people from being arrested.
Co-founder and CEO of GoodCall NYC, Jelani Anglin, desires to cease harmless individuals from being arrested.
Kevin R. Wexler/

Social media has the capacity to make almost each occasion of police brutality seen. For the one who has by no means been on the receiving finish of brutalization by police, it might appear unfathomable. But for a lot of Black Americans and other people of shade, photos of brutality like George Floyd’s demise are all too actual. 

“For many people that was their first time seeing someone being killed,” Jelani Anglin, CEO of Good Call NYC, mentioned of Floyd’s demise. Good Call NYC connects individuals with a lawyer at the first level of arrest and promotes early authorized intervention.

Anglin mentioned that social media is getting used to spotlight police practices which were stored hidden for many years.

“We have to agitate around the issue so we can bring to light what is really happening and move people to action,” he mentioned. “No effort is in vain.”

When it came to the killing of Floyd, the video that was shared moved people to action, caused the charges to be filed, and ultimately resulted in the conviction of police officer Derek Chauvin, Anglin said.

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In Kentucky and Virginia, Breonna’s Law was signed after the story of Breonna Taylor was shared for months across social media. Breonna Taylor was shot several times and killed by police while they executed a search warrant in Louisville, Kentucky. Two officers involved in the shooting have also been fired from the Louisville Police Department.

The law bans no-knock warrants which allow officers to enter a residence without announcing themselves.

The videos are helpful but until legal protections, police oversight, and community ownership of police are transformed there won’t be a substantial reduction in police violence, Keenan said. 

In the 1998 case of the Jersey Four, the lack of video evidence led James Gerrow, a special investigator for the criminal case, to recreate the scene.

Evidence numbers lined the New Jersey Turnpike at night and measurements were taken to the exact points the 13 bullets would have hit each man’s body inside the van.

“What’s come out of it, of course, is mobile video recorders and now body cams,” Gerrow said.

“We could have saved all that time and all that money, we wouldn’t have had to shut down the Turnpike for a night, we were trying to do to the best of our ability was to recreate what had occurred,” he said.

Taking action against a system 

Every minute of Ainsworth Minott’s arrest in Englewood, New Jersey, was streamed on Facebook Live. Minott was arrested during a peaceful protest he organized for Jonathan Price, a Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer outside of a convenience store in Texas.

“One cop pushed me in the chest and then another cop pushed me and I was just back-peddling, back-peddling until the cop grabbed me by the arm and tackled me,” he mentioned. “I just laid there, I didn’t even resist at all, in my head I was just like, ‘Ains, be calm cause if you fight back you’re going to make it worse.'”

People who watched the well-known activist being arrested on Facebook Live came to his support when he was taken to jail. They waited outside until his release at 1 a.m.

For Carter, of the Bergen NAACP, that type of police activity is all too frequent.

“Oh, I saw a taillight out,” Carter mentioned he recalled an officer stating on one in all the events he was pulled over. Carter was solely three blocks from his home.

“I say, ‘Well officer no it’s not,’” Carter mentioned.

“He came back and he said, ‘We have people selling drugs through here.’ And I said, ‘So why did I get stopped?’”

Minott mentioned what is required is law enforcement officials from the cities they patrol, embedded in the each day lifetime of the city, which are policing it.

“Not out-of-towners,” he mentioned. “They don’t know us, they don’t care about us. It’s just a job to them.”

Minott mentioned it makes a distinction as a result of an officer shouldn’t be going to need to pull out a gun on their neighbor or the child who lives three blocks from them.

“You’re not going to shoot him cause he’s running away from you,” Minott mentioned. 

“A lot of the white officers get hired and have no understanding of the community they are hired in,” Carter mentioned. “So they come and they are scared as hell. If you go ‘Boo!’ they are jumping trying to pull out their gun.”

Social media has performed an enormous consider current convictions and fees which were introduced towards law enforcement officials who’ve been concerned in police brutality, mentioned Karen Thompson, senior employees lawyer at the ACLU of New Jersey.

Jersey Four: Police brutality in the age of social media

Miguel Fernandez and Shaylah Brown,

“I don’t think that instances of misconduct have decreased since the presence of social media, what we are seeing now is just that they are being unmasked,” Thompson mentioned.

This is nothing new — police brutality towards Black Americans has been occurring for hundreds of years, she mentioned.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives handed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The invoice consists of in depth measures for police reform together with banning chokeholds and profiling on the foundation of race and faith. It is tough to disassociate the months-long protests and the function social media performed in bringing this invoice to fruition.  

For some, the sights are 'painful'

When most individuals join Instagram, they’re not conscious that they might wind up watching somebody being killed, Anglin mentioned. This is the world we dwell in. While traumatizing for a lot of, it has lit a flame for others, the neighborhood organizer mentioned.

“For me, looking at Black bodies brutalized to that point, it is painful,” Isabella Robinson, a sophomore at Drew University in New Jersey mentioned. “It almost makes me start to hyperventilate because it is truly upsetting.”

The online and offline are actually not totally different areas but are facets of the similar actuality, which is, merely, on a regular basis life. A life that features bias, racism and violence, mentioned Mary Chayko, the Rutgers professor creator of “Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life.”

Robinson was 13 when she witnessed officers harassing her father for taking photographs of fireworks on the Fourth of July.

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She stood alongside her father as he captured photos in a grassy subject, just a few different photographers scattered in the distance. Her father’s digicam was fancy she mentioned.

“I’m not sure why they came, they went up specifically and only to my dad,” Robinson mentioned.

“Hey what are you doing here man, what is this camera?” she remembers officers asking her father, persevering with to query him for just a few moments.

“I was roaring with anger,” Robinson mentioned. She wonders now what the response may need been if she recorded the scene on her telephone and uploaded the video to social media. 

Robinson, who’s biracial, mentioned that earlier than seeing movies of police brutality, the white facet of her household would not consider police acted that manner towards individuals of shade.

“But now they have been watching clips and things, and they say this is real,” Robinson mentioned. “It’s like, yeah, we’ve been telling you that.”

Odein Karibi-Whyte is a sophomore at Morehouse College, a traditionally Black males’s school in Atlanta, Georgia. Karibi-Whyte mentioned seeing movies of Black males being killed by police may be very exhausting.

Odein Karibi-Whyte, a freshman at Morehouse College
I really feel like they’re actually giving us the message that we now have this power to kill you and you’ll’t do something about it.

“I feel like they are really giving us the message that we have this power to kill you and you can’t do anything about it,” Whyte mentioned. 

At Morehouse, college students actively search methods to converse with each other about these conditions and conversations typically naturally come up in the classroom. Every Monday and Wednesday they’ve “Brotherhood Bonding.”

“We really just get to talk to a few professors and that is where a lot of discussions take place,” Whyte mentioned.

The boards typically proceed with college students organizing group chats and Instagram lives to maintain the conversations going. 

Prayer is what offers Whyte says offers him solace. That, and talking with those who do not require an evidence of the actuality confronted by individuals of shade.

The future of social media and social activism

Anglin mentioned the way forward for activism on social media will contain getting influencers concerned in social justice, increasing accountability, and creating extra civic engagement.

“What does it look like to talk to some of these big companies, and tell them to really step up and think about how to put their imprint on and in our communities,” Anglin mentioned.

Anglin sees an irony in the concept that video streams on Facebook Live can be utilized to ship police to a home for a drug raid, but no mechanism at the moment exists to ship assist when an individual is being murdered by an officer on Facebook or Instagram dwell.

“We all want to end… ensuring that the legal guidelines change, that all the pieces, modifications,” Carter mentioned.

Follow reporter Shaylah Brown on Twitter: @shaylah_brown

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