Sadly, today we raise our hands for something tragic.
Everyone has seen the headlines buzzing about the situation taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. In case you missed it, an 18 year old black male by the name of Michael Brown was shot to death by a white police officer after an alleged theft from a local convenience store. The controversy that surrounds it stems so much further than the incident itself.
Witnesses report that the police badgered Brown, never commanded him to cooperate, then shot him as he had his hands raised in surrender. The police officer's name was not released for days which led to uproar. The community began protesting over the excessive actions the officer took in the situation, the lack of communication with the public regarding the incident, and the apparent murder of a young man 2 days away from beginning college.
Protests got ugly as the police showed up in military garb with heavy weaponry and utilized forceful tactics to subdue crowds who, according to reports, began looting, throwing molotov cocktails and getting out of hand.
That's the short version. What this leads me to, though, is media's role in the whole situation.
Shortly after Michael Brown died, Twitter exploded with the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown to criticize the media's portrayal of Michael looking threatening or suspect. People everywhere began posting side-by-side photos of themselves looking urban in contrast with them looking mainstream. You can see examples here. The idea was to shine light on the biased, stereotypical ways media portray black people (as perpetrators more often than victims). This is a valid and important conversation to start, because it's those very stereotypical views that get impressed upon the public and lead to discrimination, harassment, profiling, and in this case, the death of a man with a bright future ahead of him.
Media influences public opinion, spurs debate, entertains, informs, educates, distracts, and impacts everyone. This incident helped bring clarity to both the problems and the potential media has.
Later in the afternoon, demonstrators gathered again, this time at Calder Plaza and with more activists, to take a photo all with their hands in the air. After the photo was taken, Edye Evans Hyde (a jazz singer who had performed minutes before at Jazz Fest) spoke to the group about her own experiences with racism; this opened up the floor for others to recount times they've been oppressed and marginalized. The stories were powerful, moving, and emotional.
Media can be something that tears us apart or brings us together. How will you use it?