#IfTheyGunnedMeDown – challenging media bias in imagery

BBC Trending reports:

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.

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”.

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:

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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About tigtog

tigtog blogs a lot elsewhere, but here on Feministe she mostly does the tech support and feeds the giraffe. tigtog tweets in irregular flurries @vivsmythe.
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21 Responses to #IfTheyGunnedMeDown – challenging media bias in imagery

  1. Donna L says:

    I think this campaign is great. I can only hope that it penetrates some people’s consciousness.

  2. EG says:

    I’m wondering if we can have an open thread on Ferguson. The info I’m seeing on Twitter is horrifying–police firing tear-gas cannisters on people protesting on their own front lawns, the media no-fly zone, rubber bullets (the kind used in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I believe), cops on video calling black protesters “fucking animals.” And it’s not even on the front page of the Times, last I checked. This is…it’s…it’s that all those dead and risking their lives in the 1950s-1970s, and nothing’s changed.

    • pheenobarbidoll says:

      Seconded

    • gratuitous_violet says:

      Thirded. I am really upset by the constant references to “rioters.” It seems like all you have to do is send the riot police to a protest, and suddenly the protesters become rioters. I do not think that is just coincidental.

      Did anyone else see the series of judgmental assholes already picking up the Twitter hashtag to scold people about taking photos in which they’re having fun while black? This one in particular was quite special.

    • tigtog says:

      I rather expected *this* thread to become a general thread on Ferguson and Michael Brown and other instances of police shootings of POC.

      • tigtog says:

        P.S. I’m happy to add just added a paragraph to the post and to the front-page excerpt to make it more obvious that this thread is the place for that to happen.

  3. tigtog says:

    I’m seeing lots of recs for the Twitter timeline of St Louis alderman @AntonioFrench who is livetweeting and putting up Vines of the police action in Ferguson.

  4. tigtog says:

    Image description:
    [A half-sheet of typed white paper reads:

    Ad Hoc Committee for Justice on Behalf of Michael Brown

    OUR DEMANDS:
    1. The officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown be IMMEDIATELY identified.
    2. The same officer should be immediately fired and charged with murder.
    3. The Ferguson Police Department “Protocol Handbook” be distributed throughout the Ferguson community.
    4. The racial composition of the Ferguson Police Department should reflect the racial demographics of the community.

    followed by Action Items including the current protest, and a list of supporting organizations.]

  5. tigtog says:

    Details for National Moment Of Silence remembrance/solidarity gatherings/vigils to take place around the USA via Gradient Lair

    @FeministaJones started the hashtag #NMOS14 (National Moment of Silence, Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 7pm EST / 4pm PST ; flyer designed by @alsorae ) in memory of Michael Brown, the Black teenager who was extrajudicially executed in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s about all of the Black victims of extrajudicial execution and State violence (which is NOT the same as any race’s intraracial crime).

    People can set up #NMOS14 gatherings in their own cities (see the Facebook page for #NMOS14), all to occur at the same time mentioned above. Also, follow the #NMOS14 hashtag for information (and here’s an image to change your avi , if you choose.) If time/ability etc. prevents you from attending, you can join the conversation on Twitter. It’s about community and not any one leader to speak for all. So far several people have stepped up to create gatherings for their own cities.

    These gatherings are about acknowledging our loss, our pain, our humanity.

    Read the rest.

  6. EG says:

    Thanks, tigtog.

    From what I’m reading on Twitter, it’s a fucking police state out there–martial law, for all practical purposes. Cops kitted out better than US troops in Iraq arresting and assaulting journalists, children marching and chanting while snipers point rifles at them–it’s like something out of South Africa in the early 1980s. Cops no longer responding to 911–no longer even pretending that they’re there to keep people safe. Who is being protected from whom? It’s the police who are rioting.

    How does this end? Does it end? Or is it just the beginning?

    • someGuy says:

      Same here. Following Mikka Kendall’s TL. Or check out anything on the #Ferguson hashtag. Mainstream media coverage is abysmal. Obama’s comments were a joke. Whole thing is absolutely infuriating, and the police are acting like a military force. It’s unfolding in front of our eyes, and there’s a terrifying silence from a lot of people.

      @EG: Apparently Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to residents in Ferguson how to handle tear gas. Jesus.

  7. Ally S says:

    Apparently, Anonymous doxxed St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and found out, through one of his private photos, that he has a Confederate flag in his house. Is anyone surprised?

    • Ally S says:

      TW: police brutality, violence

      The police is now firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters. Please spread this link everywhere you can.

  8. AMM says:

    The more I hear about what’s going on in Ferguson, the sicker I feel. It’s 1965 all over again. What we see is a police culture that sees the community it polices as its enemy.

    What we don’t see, or refuse to see, is a society that has rigged its system so black and brown people nearly always lose. One that constantly portrays black people, especially males, as criminal by nature. And that the police are ultimately just the people we’ve hired to do the dirty work of enforcing that system. In NYC, next door to me, a lot of the police racism comes from the top — the mayor, the police commissioner, and the segment of the population they represent. Just to name some of the more blatant ones: stop and frisk, arrest quotas.

    Meanwhile, those of us who that system is set up to serve (the 1%) or at least not discomfort too much (the rest of us middle-class whites) aren’t forced to see the everyday violence that our society rests on top of. And when we are forced to see it, like today, we are shocked! shocked! to hear that apparently innocent black people are being killed or that the police are acting like an occupying army.

    The list of black people killed by the police in dubious circumstances just keeps growing and growing. There’s of course Eric Garner, killed in Staten Island (NYC) by police using a choke hold. There’s Amadou Diallo. There’s Kenneth Chamberlain, who was killed by police just down the road from me when they broke into his apartment and he resisted. There’s Danroy Henry, who was killed in a town up the road from me. Or an off-duty black police officer, Christopher Ridley, killed in a city down the road from me.

    And of course there are the black people killed by non-police, who are mostly exonerated because apparently being black is equivalent to threatening with a deadly weapon. Trayvon Martin is the most obvious example.

    Is there such a thing as an African-American “Day of Remembrance”?

    BTW, I lived for several years in Germany, and I kept asking myself: what would I have done if I’d lived there during the Nazi period? Now I’m watching a horror in my own country, and think I have an idea what ethical Germans must have felt: helpless.

    • someGuy says:

      BTW, I lived for several years in Germany, and I kept asking myself: what would I have done if I’d lived there during the Nazi period? Now I’m watching a horror in my own country, and think I have an idea what ethical Germans must have felt: helpless.

      I understand you feel that way, but I just want to emphasize that we aren’t hopeless. We can protest, send money, harass local tv stations for better coverage, call out people on twitter, pester our reps. in congress, etc etc. We have to act; it is imperative that we do something.

  9. Sharon M says:

    Still Darren Wilson remains free and uncharged. The painting of him as a “good, quiet man” is sickening. Just because he has a clean record too, means zip. Funny, information came out that his mother was a huge con artist, who bilked their neighbors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    • someGuy says:

      Yep. It’s eerie how this parallels Zimmerman/Martin all over again. The media shaped the narrative so that it was Martin, not Zimmerman, who was on trial. Martin’s character was being attacked as a thug, drug user, etc etc. And what is happening in Ferguson? Exactly the same story. It is Brown’s character that is being assassinated. Brown is a robber and, in the mind’s of many people, a thug and thus, a disposable black body. It’s despicable.

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