Moral Low Ground


#IfTheyGunnedMeDown: Black Twitter Backlash Against Michael Brown Media Coverage

A tale of two photos...

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown: A tale of two photos…

Social media users, many of them young and black, are deeply dissatisfied with the corporate mainstream media’s coverage of last weekend’s fatal police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

Brown, 18, would have started college today. But on Saturday, he was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer after allegedly refusing to obey an order to move from a street where he was walking onto a sidewalk. Witnesses said Brown had his hands raised in the air when he was repeatedly shot.

On Sunday, a protest and vigil followed. That, in turn, deteriorated into rioting, vandalism and looting as day gave way to night. Some 32 people were arrested as businesses and vehicles were damaged and, in some cases, burned. Two police officers were reportedly injured.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of events has revolved around the civil unrest, leading some, especially blacks and civil rights activists, to accuse media outlets of caring more about exposing black youth behaving badly than the perceived injustice of yet another unarmed young black man who was killed by a (reportedly) white authority figure.

The Associated Press, for example, published an article showing mother Lesley McSpadden, grieving the loss of her son, with a headline reading: “Missouri Crowd After Shooting: ‘Kill The Police.'”

Many other news outlets, from CBS to local television stations and newspapers across the nation, also ran the eyebrow-raising — and some say inappropriate — headline, focusing on the inflammatory chants of relatively small number of grieving and emotional protesters instead of on the only person who had actually been killed, Michael Brown.

Many observers are also asking why some mainstream media outlets chose to print or broadcast a photo of Brown flashing what could be a gang sign or what could just be a teenager trying to look “cool” like teenagers do everywhere.

NBC News and other mainstream outlets ran with the photo, with some Twitter users asking why that photo, and not one of Brown in his high school graduation attire or posing with relatives, was published. Some have accused NBC and others of attempting to infer that Brown was a ‘gangbanger.’

Fox News, which reported extensively on the “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage” caused by Sunday’s unrest, didn’t even publish a photo of Brown on its website on Monday, but chose instead to run a photo of the damage done to a Ferguson business.

Many black Americans see a pattern of misleading mainstream media portrayal of their youth who have been victimized by white violence in an attempt, perhaps intentional, to fit the image of what prominent legal scholar and professor Kathryn Russell has dubbed “criminalblackman.”

Whether focusing on Trayvon Martin’s hoodie and marijuana use, Renisha McBride’s drinking or Rekia Boyd’s late-night hangout, critics accuse the media of effectively blaming young black victims of police and other violence for their own deaths.

With this in mind, many young blacks and other concerned citizens and activists have been tweeting #IfTheyGunnedMeDown with split-screen photos of themselves looking like both upstanding citizens and varying degrees of ‘thug.’ Students, soldiers, singers, business leaders and activists of all stripes have been posting under the Twitter hashtag all day Monday and asking:

“If they gunned me down, which photo of me would they use?”

“The vicious slaying of Mike Brown… has once again shown that the narrative the media paints surrounding black people in America more often than not includes depicting us as violent thugs with gang and drug affiliations,” writes The Root’s Yesha Callahan. “It’s safe to say that Brown has become a victim of what I like to refer to as the ‘Trayvon Martin effect’ in the media.”

Callahan says the Twitter hashtag was created to “make a statement on how the media draws a biased narrative when it comes to telling the stories of black men and women.”

“#IfTheyGunnedMeDown is not only a sad commentary on what it means to be black in America but also shows that in order to have our own narrative correctly reported, we have to do the reporting ourselves,” adds Callahan.

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