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Since the emergence of Black lives matter, police brutality against Black people have been under the microscope in America. Particularly black male adults. Black lives matter has not just sought to expose police brutality and citizens killed by police officers, but also to highlight the everyday injustices that occur in America in the stark differences in race. Racism in America is a systemic epidemic that occurs across all institutions, whether it be lack of educational opportunities that then go onto impact economic and vocational abilities, to healthcare accessibility and the list goes on. It is argued that in America it’s easy to draw a contrast in the lives of black people since the civil rights movement and how far America has come, yet many argue that the systemic changes have not happened, and merely the surface of racism has been punctured and underneath lies a labyrinth of webs that need to be un-weaved to truly allow Black people to feel equal in America. The argument for sociologists and researchers in the last decade has been how has social media impacted the discussion and fight to further push for justice and equal opportunities? Will Smith quoted ‘racism is not getting worse it’s just being filmed’.
A survey carried out by Monica Anderson et al confirmed that 64% of Americans feel that ‘social media helps give a voice to underrepresented groups’. Yet 77% say social media sites distract people from important issues. With 71% of people stating that social media makes people believe they are making a difference when they are not(Anderson, M. (2016). Therefore the question lies in is giving a voice to a cause enough, in today’s society of 24/7 global news, is knowing about something enough to make a change, awareness does not constitute to growth when it comes to racism, it is not enough. Millions of people around the world have been shown the stark and harrowing images of the suffering in Yemen, yet has it made a difference? The suffering and famine in Yemen following decades of the civil war still happens. Yes, maybe small changes have happened that have impacted the lives of a few, but injustices on such a scale need to have larger bigger impacts for any difference to be felt at all. Visual communication theory can be used here to identify the hypothesis of why and what the impact of hashtag activism can play. Visual communication theory argues that the audience being able to be present in the visual of an issue can allow an increased connection into the situation. Therefore it is argued that the visual communication that is presented across social media and the increasing use of social media as a way of telling news and highlighting events is critical in understanding how people respond and how political participation increases. Such as when people see the words Black lives matters, they have a visual memory of seeing Michael Brown’s body lying on the road covered in blood or any number of the hundreds of black lifeless bodies we have all seen on our tv screens, in our phones at the hands of police brutality(Messaris, P: 2003). Even with the visual is it enough? Academic research has highlighted that hashtag activism has become an important tool for social movements. Ever since the beating of Rodney King, which was broadcasted throughout America, led to riots when the four police officers who took part in beating King were acquitted, he became a symbol of police brutality in America. Yet even with the ability to now live stream police brutality across the globe, police are still not held to justice in America. Police brutality in America has become more widely reported yet there still seems to lack any kind of accountability for police actions towards civilians. As 99 % of police who killed civilians do not face criminal charges(Mapping Police Violence, 2020).With this information, this research will look to find what policy changes have happened within the Ferguson police department and what difference if any it has made to police brutality. Did the hashtags #handsupdontshoot and #Ferguson affect systemic change?
The sociologists for justice collective compromises over 2000 sociologists who have come out in support for Black lives matter and outlined policy recommendations to help prevent further police brutality. The sociologists for justice collective was implemented when at an annual sociology association conference, the need for more academic focus on political activism rising from social media and how this could be implemented and supported in campuses. With the rise of black lives matter, came the rise of support from prominent politicians, celebrities, to academics. Sociologists have implemented initiatives to support the work of black lives matter movements. Such as to seek to implement policy on key issues to why racial inequality related to policing violence and the systemic change that needs to happen to prevent this(Lubin, J. 2016). Critical Race Theory (CRT), a theory birthed from protest, insists scholars take account of the ways race and racism are endemic to society (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). While much education research neglected the role of racism in education, scholars took a bold stance, employing CRT to argue that race and racism matter in education (Harper, S. 2012).
The public fallout following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson has been compared to the memories of the civil rights movement and assignation of Martin Luther King. Although in principle Martin Luther King was murdered due to his beliefs and peaceful protests of change he encouraged, and Michael Brown was killed when accused of stealing might not appear to share similarities other than that both were unarmed black men. Some theorists have sought to draw closer lines of similarity to them. The existence of social tension in Ferguson and most states across America starts from unequal opportunities, and harsher penalties applied to those of poorer communities, which in Ferguson compromise of prodomentaly black people. Therefore it is argued that Michael Brown was the spark that lite the fire of tension in Ferguson, but that fire was going to be lite whether it was Michael Brown or not(Bunting, A.Stamatel, J. 2019). When some counter-argue any similarities between Martin Luther King’s peaceful movement to BLM, by saying Black lives matter is more like the black power movement. Martin Luther King himself said that while the black power movement encouraged physical aggressive actions which did not mirror his push for peaceful revolution, none the less they were both reacting to the same injustice. The same push for those in power (white people) to make the changes that were needed to ensure justice was equal for the black person in America. Equally, after Michael Brown was killed although the riots and violent responses were not the symbols of peaceful change promoted by politicians across the land none the less, they were reacting to decades of injustice and segregation(McDonald, J. 2016). Symbolic interactionism can be used as a theory to understand as to why despite the rise in the visual and audio portrayal of police brutality bigger change hasn’t happened. Symbolic interactionalists argue that people behave based on what they believe to be true and not based on facts. Therefore race explained by social interactionists is simply formed based on constructed views of people based on what someone looks like, not on biological facts. The media can perpetuate this narrative further by assuming a false negative perception of an individual(Denzin, N: 2001)
Threat theories are abundant which seek to explain the reasons for police use of force and other actions in minority communities. In general, these theories seem to indicate that the levels of crime, particularly violent crime, in these communities will dictate the amount of force that is exhibited by the police in their interactions with community members. The enigma associated with the deaths of unarmed young men of colour at the hands of police officers, though, has brought about a completely new dynamic in the way the framework of police use of force is viewed. While considered as isolated incidents, numerous studies have consistently determined that force is used against Blacks by the police at higher rates than their representation in the general population. It would seem, then, that police brutality is ignored, and that there is a failure by both state and federal prosecutors to curtail this issue (Holmes, M, 2000). Compounding this issue is what seems to be a lack of accountability for officers who use deadly force, specifically as it is applied in communities of colour.Media accounts of various high-profile police shootings all seem to provide conclusive evidence of the difficulties involved with charging officers for alleged use of excessive force.
Citizens, statisticians, and law enforcement alike now seek to bring transparency and clarity to this topic. These efforts appear to be hampered, though, by the fact that no known, the reliable governmental database exists that provides information concerning deaths at the hands of the police even though the collection of this data was mandated by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. However, in general, law enforcement agencies seem to think that there is no need to make the public aware of how many people are killed by police officers each year. Only a few agencies, such as the Philadelphia Police Department, New York Police Department and Los Angeles Police Department, have voluntarily provided this information, with others required to do so under court order (Butler, P:2018). Several crowd-sourced databases have recently been established, though, which seek to provide this information, and may be valuable for their research quality These data sources appear to provide significant information, not only regarding the basis for which force was used, but also the state of mind of the victim, as well as the final resolution of each incident. The complex interweaves of law enforcement and government in America makes policy adherence difficult to push through. St Louis city sheriff and city courts system and country courts which comprises 90 municipalities which cause political fragmentation(Smith, G.2014).
When Michael Brown was killed, it did not take long before he was being portrayed as a criminal, and his past and criminal record highlighted to the viewers. This kind of media attention that helped perpetuate the narrative that the police officer was the victim and Michael Brown the criminal. The black lives movement can impact solidarity with African Americans and other immigrants. Negative stereotypes of black males are problematic as it creates environments and negative perception(F. Gillham and T. Marx, 2018). The Media tried to depict Michael Brown as a criminal, as they have other victims of police brutality to further pursue the message on the imbalance. Data on police killings may be deflated as it is self-reported by law enforcement units and not all departments participate. The striking feature of Black lives matter is the focus on violence inflicted on black bodies. Contemporary American racism is the systematic murder of young black men and women at the hands of the police. The video footage showed all over the globe through social media and then news outlets showed the glaring reality of Michael Brown’s death as the audience sat on and watched as his bullet-ridden body lay on the pavement, helped to portray a real visual image not to be forgotten that cannot be portrayed the same in Hollywood movies. Coates’ Racism is more than a matter of injustice, moral depravity and dehumanising rhetoric it is first and foremost a visceral experience that dislodges the brains blocks airways and rips muscles and cracks bones. Systematic change needed(Dahl, A: 2017).
The relationships between police and members of the Black community have long been controversial and fraught in America, as black communities feel increasingly isolated and ostracized by criminal justice. Complaints regarding racial profiling, police abuse and misconduct, and disrespectful treatment have been echoed across America for decades. Research shows that black people particularly men face harsher punishments from police, whether that be longer jail sentences, bigger fines etc(Barlow and Barlow, 2002)
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