It was inevitable that Ferguson would change the conversation. The sudden transformation of a midwestern suburb into something often indistinguishable from a war zone will have that effect.
It isn’t surprising that the shooting death of an unarmed African American teenager at the hands of a local police officer, and then the subsequent shocking paramilitary tactics of law enforcement officials attempting to put down the oft-anarchic protests that followed, sparked a national conversation on race relations and police militarization. But what it surprising is that, even as protests in the Missouri city started to die down, at least temporarily, the national focus on the abuse that racial and ethnic minorities regularly suffer at the hands of law enforcement has remained constant.
On my own Facebook News Feed, stories about police abuse have become an almost daily occurrence, whereas they used to be few and far between.
Much of this is the result of a realization by the media that these type of stories resonate with readers. In an era where chasing viral hits is often job number one for writers, discovering an angle that consistently generates traffic and manages to be infinitely more substantive than doing 100 word write-ups of cat videos is basically a panacea.
At the same time, the post-Ferguson growth of loose anti-police brutality organizations like Cop Block, which has grown to have over one million Facebook subscribers and survived coordinated takedown campaigns by pro-police groups, have put a spotlight on the same issues outside of the context of professional media outlets.
Regardless how these stories are being disseminated to the public, the simple fact is that they are getting out. While building the narratives about the reasons behind America’s two-tiered justice system is important, the newfound focus on these type of stories has taught people around the world the names of the victims of police violence. People whose stories would have once gone either wholly untold or faded away after a single local press mention are now being shared by national news outlets on a regular basis.
As a result, there are a litany of people who have been—in an indirect, oblique way—given back an aspect of their humanity and agency, things that were taken away from them in often tragic interactions with the very people tasked with the duty of protecting them from harm, by having their stories shared over and over again across the Internet.
Some of the following actions by police were likely justified. Not all of the victims were black, nor were all of the police officers involved white. But the lessons of Ferguon extend beyond those simple equivalences. The renewed public focus on police abuse is a direct result of a palpable shift in the way millions of Americans view the relationship between their communities and law enforcement.
In just the weeks since Ferguson:
- We know name of Earl Baldwin Jr., a Pittsburgh reverend and anti-gang violence activist who was shocked with a stun gun by police officers while praying over the hospital bed of his dying stepson.
- We know the name of Sandra Ameziquita, a pregnant woman who was slammed, stomach-first, on a Brooklyn street by a NYPD officer after she tried to stop a group of police officers from beating up her son.
- We know the name of Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year-old great-grandmother who a video showed being pinned to the ground and savagely beaten by California Highway Patrol officer.
- We know the name of Bryce Masters, a 17-year-old who was put into a medically-induced coma after a police officer ground the teen’s head into the pavement “as if he were putting out a cigarette.”
- We know the name of Jeffrey Bane, a man whose symptoms from Huntington Disease were mistaken for intoxication and, while he was being forcibly held down by police, a bystander could hear him “choking on his own blood” from across the street.
- We know the name of Christopher Lollie, who was shocked with a stun gun for sitting down in a public space while waiting to pick up his daughter from school.
- We know the name of John Crawford III, who was shot by police for walking around an Ohio Walmart holding a toy gun he had taken from the shelf.
- We know the name of Levar Jones, who was shot while sitting in his car by a South Carolina state trooper after the officer had pulled him over for a seat belt violation and asked to see his drivers license.
- We know the name of Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed by police for walking around while dressed up as an anime character from the cartoon Samurai Champloo—a costume that includes a toy sword.
- We know the name of Charles Belk, an African American film producer who was detained for six hours by LAPD during an Emmy Awards pre-party because police thought he fit the description of a bank robbery suspect.
- We know the name of Jonathan Danza, a vendor at a street fair who was violently kicked by a NYPD officer while already laying on the ground, subdued by other officers and clearly no longer in any way a threat.
- We know the name of Lilian Alonzo, a grandmother who was shot by DEA agents raiding her house while she was in the process of reaching for her infant grandchild. No drugs were found in her home.
- We know the name of Charles James Lang Jr., who can be seen on a cell phone video being shot twice with a stun gun by a sheriff’s deputy while handcuffed and laying on the ground.
- We know the name of Santiago Hernandez, a man who was attacked by a half-dozen police officers when he questioned why he was being subjected to a random, stop-and-frisk search.
- We know the name of Victor White, who, police officers insist, somehow managed to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest while his hands were handcuffed behind his back.
- We know the name of Tyrell Rivers, a 16-year old who is suing the Wilmington, N.C. police department for being choked by a police officer while handcuffed. In a video of the incident, the officer can be heard yelling, “Do you want to die in this patrol car tonight?”
- We know the name of Guy Blouin, a cyclist who was arrested by a police officer even after that offier had run over Blouin in his cruiser and “blood poured out of his mouth.”
Thanks in part thanks for the whirlwind of media and public attention swirling around Ferguson, we know all of their names. Soon, we will sadly know many, many more.