The death of Freddie Gray broke the string on the camels back for a large portion of American citizens. There has been an outbreak of rioting in the US city of Baltimore following the funeral of Gray. Gray died on April 19 after suffering a spinal injury while in Baltimore Police custody. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time the black community has been subjected to these acts of self-described systematic racism.
What started off as peaceful protest quickly grew violent, according to Baltimore Governor Larry Hogan. Hogan activated the National Guard and introduced a weeklong curfew to try and control and reduce the issues that were occurring to the citizens and the landmarks of the city around them. Stores were being looted and set on fire, and cars were being vandalised… but was this all that was happening?
It is reported that a large majority of these protestors became violent, but witnesses claim that it was only a small minority of individuals. Out of the 2,000 people who marched, only around 100 were responsible for the acts of violence. Traditional media sources, such as The Baltimore Sun, took it upon themselves to publish pictures that showcased all of the chaos and the violence that was occurring, as opposed to what was really going on. Photos from unrelated events and made up stories were being published by these ‘trusted’ news sources. This time around, accounts on social media were participating in the peaceful protests, where they could, to spread the word around, in a positive light, to people all around the world.
The response on social media has been astounding. Hashtags, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #DontShoot and #NoTheOtherOne, have been shared around by individuals all over the world, to create awareness on the issue and with hopes to work together to resolve these often unlawful crimes. #BlackLivesMatter has gone on to be more than a trend on social media. The movement was created in 2012 as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the harmful anti-Black racism that is present in society. The major goal for this protest movement has been to get justice for the victims of police killings. Although, in some cases, police have been held accountable, the Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t been won.
This issue isn’t really prevalent in Australia, but there has been a case or two that has had the nation questioning the motives of police officers. In 2004, Thomas ‘TJ’ Hickey was killed when he lost control of his bicycle and became impaled on a fence in Redfern. It was alleged that police, who, either directly or indirectly, played a big role in the outcome of this situation, were following Hickey. The Aboriginal community were known to be victimised by the police force, and were often subjected to harassment and provocation. This incident caused a 9-hour riot, in which Redfern station was set on fire and police were showered with rocks, bottles and bricks. Social media didn’t exist around the time of this case, so members of the public only had what the traditional news sources were saying. Although they were able to form their own opinions about what was currently happening in suburban Australia, not all of the facts were being presented. The police were saying one thing, the Redfern locals were saying another, and the media was just cutting bits and pieces together.
Ever since the death of 18-year-old Mike Brown, the pleas and protests of bystanders are getting louder and louder. Mike Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he was identified as matching the profile of someone involved in a liquor store theft. Wilson pleaded, after the fact, that he was afraid for his life after Brown allegedly charged at him. The cases of Brown and Gray are very similar, in which they both began as peaceful protests. As the protests spread from Ferguson to all the way around the country, the police responded by bringing in military weapons.
Even though this has been happening in the US for many years, news outlets around the world didn’t cover it as much as you would expect. The cases of Eric Harris, John Crawford and Akai Gurley, just to name a few, had little to no coverage on international television and radio stations. It wasn’t until this unfortunate day for Brown, in 2014, that struck a change. Social media sites blew up in outrage and everyone did what they could. Blog posts, status’, and movements were being written to engage the international community and get as much support as possible.
The legal responses to this brutality enacted upon by law enforcement have been a bit of a hit and a miss. Out of the eight most recent cases, four cases have had the offending officers charged, and the other four have had no repercussions. Peter Liang was indicted, after turning himself in, for the manslaughter of Akai Gurley. Michael Scott was charged with the murder of Walter Scott after a video showed up online, which contradicted his earlier police report. Robert Bates was charged with the shooting of Eric Harris. Six Baltimore police officers (Caesar Goodson Jr, Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, William Porter, Brian Rice and Alicia White) have been charged with crimes that range from second degree murder and manslaughter to misconduct against Freddie Gray. Police officers involved in the shootings of Eric Garner, John Crawford and Darrien Hunt were not indicted for their actions. After a three-month inquiry, the St Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson over the death of Mike Brown, as witnesses who authenticated his account were found to be more credible than the ones who incriminated him. Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch expressed that the testimonies of these eyewitnesses were inconsistent. The authenticated eyewitnesses told the courts that Wilson never stood over Brown’s fallen body, despite multiple photographs being shared around on social media showed otherwise.
This issue is far from being resolved, but through the efforts of individuals and the power of social media, change should be well on its way.