police brutality

The 13th

I just watched Ava DuVernay’s documentary, the 13th on Netflix (coincidentally, it is the 13th of October).  After a few students in my Racial Inequality class commented that it was a great documentary (note: when twenty-somethings say a documentary is good…you better watch…it must be remarkable).  The documentary is about the hows and whys of the disproportionate presence of black people in American prisons.

It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

It starts with an historical overview, dating back from Emancipation, describing how black peoples have been stereotyped, surveilled and sentenced.  The obligatory Birth of a Nation scenes are shown and discussed, the Civil Rights Movement is given its due.  But the documentary really shines when it moves to the political and corporate roots of the  post 60’s “Tough on Crime” stance in American society.  No stone is left unturned and no prominent voice is left out.  If one wanted to know who the main voices in the prison reform movement are, one couldn’t do any better than jotting down the people interviewed in this documentary.

As an academic who studies social media, I listened intently to the last 20 minutes or so, where the documentary talks about the  use of media to, as one of the interviewees said, “show the humanity of black peoples”.  The line was drawn from writings and autobiographies to photographs of lynchings to the strategic use of television by the Civil Rights Movement (e.g. dogs sicced on kids, fire hoses trained on weaponless marchers) to finally the use of mobile phones documenting instances of police brutality.

There are quite a few negatives to ripping snapshots from everyday life out of context and posting them online for everyone to see.  But for so many decades the weight of the state on black people has been unseen and overlooked.  But new technologies level the playing field somewhat between individuals and the state.  People have seen police brutality – even though it is decontextualized – close up and personal, and this has made it impossible to be overlooked.  Black peoples (as well as women, sexual minorities, immigrants, and other groups who are not a part of the privileged set) have a means of speaking truth to power.

In any case, The 13th is in my view one of the best documentaries ever produced.  It is a must see.

Micah Johnson, the Dallas Shootings, and the Push to Radicalization

There is some talk that Micah Johnson, the shooter who killed five police during a protest in Dallas, was radicalized online.  Johnson’s desire to “kill white people” was either generated, nurtured, or both by browsing websites and communicating through social media.

I think he was radicalized.


As CNN reports, “Micah Johnson’s online history shows he followed dozens of sites that focused on injustices committed on the black community. He visited and liked several websites dedicated to Black Lives Matter and the New Black Panthers, along with the Nation of Islam and the Black Riders Liberation Party, two groups the Southern Poverty Law Center considers hate groups.”

Extremist websites act as pulls towards extremism, and this is enough for the media to go on.  It fits with the good guy-bad guy narrative we like.  There are groups out there that can simply brainwash a person to do bad things.  But there is more to radicalization than what the media can get across in quick soundbites.  There is also a push to extremis.  It is the push, I believe, that we should be most worried about.


Organizing “Smartly” in Ferguson, Missouri

I don’t like all that violence going on in Ferguson, Missouri.  It is not grounded in the pain and anguish of the loved ones of Michael Brown.  Rather, the violence stems from outside agitators and political opportunists seeing this as a chance to make a name for themselves.   What is Jesse Jackson doing there?  What about the new Black Panthers?  Do the people of Ferguson really need them to prove their point?

Are these people members of the Ferguson community or members of Brown's family.  If not, what are they doing there?

Are these people members of the Ferguson community or members of Brown’s family. If not, what are they doing there?

“No Justice No Peace” rings hollow when supported by violence and disorder instead of organized civil disobedience.  What inevitably happens is that people focus on the peace – trying to arrest rabble rousers, shaking their heads at looters,  and so forth.  They forget about the justice – should Officer Darren Wilson be charged with murder?


I am at risk here, but I wonder if this person lives in Ferguson and if this person is protesting for justice...or just to have a nice image for the media to replay.  Looks good doesn't it.  But it may not do anything to solve the real issue here.

Maybe I am too cynical, but I wonder if this person lives in Ferguson and if this person is protesting for justice…or just sporting this defiant pose to have a nice image for the media to replay. The shot looks good doesn’t it?  I hope his intentions are noble.

The days of marching down main street to prove a point are not over.  As long as the media still covers them, marching and protesting will get the national exposure they want.  But with the help of the digital environment, protests can be more effective…and possibly eliminate some of the rabble rousers who only make the situation worse.  Protesters can organize “smartly”.  Let me explain…