The killing of a black teenager by police in a suburb of St Louis, Missouri has sparked looting and riots in the city. Now, black people across the US have taken to Twitter to protest the way he has been portrayed in the media.
By posting two pictures of themselves – one in a conventionally positive scenario, and another in a more negative light – hundreds of people have hit back at a form of stereotyping they feel is common in the media.
The first photos of Brown in the media showed him in his high school graduation gown. As the police narrative about the shooting as a “struggle with police” emerged, the picture shown by the media changed to one culled from his social media accounts, showing Brown dressed in sportswear and “throwing a gang sign”.
Later, an alternative photo emerged of Brown wearing a sports vest and making a sign with his hand. At a glance, it could be seen as suggestive of gang culture, even if it was simply a light-hearted gesture. It was this image that became popular with media organisations and conservative bloggers, according to criminal defence lawyer CJ Lawrence.
Lawrence says he was frustrated by what he saw as an attempt to shift blame away from the police, and onto Brown. He posted dual images of himself on Twitter along with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.
— YoungGifted&Black✊ (@CJ_musick_lawya) August 10, 2014
In the first, he is seen making a speech at his university graduation alongside guest speaker Bill Clinton. In the second, he is dressed as a rapper in a costume he wore to a Halloween party. The hashtag poses a rhetorical question, he says, “but in reality it’s something we ask ourselves every day as African Americans”.
— michael cera fanclub (@StealUrGirlBush) August 11, 2014
— Quinton Jones (@QDOTjones) August 11, 2014
By contrast, how likely is it that any of these photos of White people “lightheartedly” throwing gang signs would be chosen as the most appropriate summation of their character? The twitpic below sums up the dissonance in how one gesture tends to be interpreted depending on skin colour:
EXACTLY! Smh pic.twitter.com/VG8OguPzoC
— Kunta Kinte (@NikoWavy) August 11, 2014
Addendum: it’s not just a USA media issue either.
UPDATE: as requested in comments, I want to make it clear that discussion of everything regarding police actions in Ferguson related to the Michael Brown shooting and the brutal shutdown of peaceful protests there, plus the history of other police shootings and oppression of POC, is on topic for this thread.
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