Who watches the watchers? Social media and the Ferguson protests
On August 9th, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson County Police Officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson Missouri. Due to the misinformation and lack of information surrounding the shooting, the town of Ferguson has been at an unrest ever since. Clashes between protestors and police have ensued, while peaceful protests have taken the stage as well. The shooting was brought to people’s attention within minutes as a local singer who goes by the stage name “Thee Pharaoh” shared a couple of photos on Twitter that he took from his bedroom window of Michael Brown laying face down on the concrete in a pool of blood while a police officer stood over the lifeless body. Those photographs were then circulated on Twitter and other forms of social media, hundreds of times over within the first few hours.
“Thee Pharaoh” then tweeted “I just saw someone die...” With the quick circulation of these tweets, protests started almost instantaneously even while the body of Michael Brown still lay cold in the street.
One fact remains, despite various eye witness accounts, pictures, and cell phone videos of the aftermath of the incident, there is not one video, picture or audio of the beginning of the incident. Now an entire town, an entire nation, an entire world is left to speculate. Who was right? Who was wrong? Was the officer threatened? Was Michael Brown wrongfully attacked from the beginning? Had a dash camera been in tact that day or a body camera that the officers were mandated to wear that could record both audio and video, we would then have the beginning of the story, as well as the tragic end. Perhaps then someone could put the pieces of the puzzle together to see what actually occurred.
At a time when social media and cell phone videos are at an all time high, the internet has become the platform for anyone, no matter their race, religion, sex, or socio-economic status, to display to the world any and everything they want you to see, whether it be good, bad, indifferent or morally acceptable.
In a press conference held last Wednesday, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said his department did receive a grant from the Department of Justice so that they may buy dash cameras and body cameras, and acquired two of each. However Jackson went on to say that the department doesn't have the money to put the technology to use.
Kirk Siefert, 22, of University City Missouri, wasn’t satisfied with that.
Two days after Browns death, Siefert started a petition on Change.org that has garnered much attention. The petition asks that all St. Louis city and county police officers wear body cameras and record interactions with the public at all times. The petition received 500 signatures within the first hour and currently has 46, 437 signatures and growing. “I think this whole thing could have been avoided had the Ferguson police used the cameras they already purchased," Siefert said. Police in Rialto, California, have been using cameras to record interactions since 2012. According to an article in the New York Times, the number of complaints against police dropped by 88 percent in the first year, and the use of force by officers fell by 60 percent since the cameras have been mandatory within their department.
Meanwhile, because of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the entire nation is on edge. From citizens to law enforcement, religious leaders, to political leaders. Social Media is still strongly abuzz with all that’s going on from the militarizing of the Ferguson Police Department during the first couple days of protests, to tear gas launches, to opportunists causing havoc in town, to mothers crying in the street wondering if their child will be the next victim. Media outlets have been in the midst of it all, broadcasting from live in the streets during the protests, to journalists being arrested for doing nothing more than their job, which is to report the news.
Our eyes are almost constantly illuminated by our cell phones and computers. Pictures, videos and words flash before our eyes in front of us, as each individual that comes across these scenes starts to process their personal take on the Ferguson situation. Our personal, moral and societal beliefs come in to play as we listen to all different accounts of what happened on August 9th, 2014 on the streets of Ferguson. We watch with the world, we process, we come up with our own belief of what is right and what is wrong. We react, we respond, we debate and we speculate on what may happen next.
What will happen next?
We don’t know, but once we do know, one thing is sure, we will find ourselves once again, reacting, responding and debating.