How Social Media Helped Spread Protest In Michael Brown Shooting

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Colorlines Editor-at-Large Kai Wright and NPR's Scott Simon reflect on the reaction to Michael's Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The events this week in Ferguson have sparked a much larger national conversation about race. We're joined now by Kai Wright, he's editor-at-large for colorlines.com. Kai, thanks very much for being with us.

KAI WRIGHT: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Recognizing that this is ongoing, what do you think we might learn from the shooting of Michael Brown and the reaction to it?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, it is becoming something of a macabre ritual this morning of unarmed black teenagers who die in interactions with police. And I think what's important here is as we look at Michael Brown and others before it is they're all best understood as the most dramatic example of what happens when we have an overaggressive policing of black neighborhoods. And, you know, and we heard a lot this week about the militarization of the police force in Ferguson as it's responded to the protest. But there are examples that stretch beyond that - the special units for gangs that operate without accountability, it's the stats-driven policing that leads to arrests for crimes like marijuana possession. And all of those things create a hostile climate that leads to this stuff. And at some point, we have to ask, you know, is this about individual things or is this about a larger understanding of policing that needs to change?

SIMON: Are social media platforms adding something to public reaction, or at least reaction time these days too?

WRIGHT: Absolutely. I mean that - I think we've seen that on any number of issues and stories across the globe, frankly. And it's certainly been the case with Michael Brown. But I think what is also important to point out is that while the medium of social media has been very powerful, what's really been at the courts is something very old-school, which was citizens behaving as citizen journalists, who just refuse to be bullied out of the streets. And we're documenting what was going on around them in a way that reminds us more of the civil rights movement and things decades ago than they do anything new.

SIMON: The governor of Missouri and President Obama, among many others, have obviously both spoken out publicly. Does the president, for a lot of different reasons, have a hard time broaching race in this situation?

WRIGHT: Well, he certainly thinks he does, or that's been the White House's strategy on race in general. They've been very reluctant to name it in all kinds of circumstances. I think that is wearing thin in many communities. But I think what is notable is that he did turn to accountability in his statement. And I think that's an important point here is that this kind of policing ultimately is what elected officials need to be held accountable for. And I think that's what you're seeing folks on the street of Ferguson saying.

SIMON: Kai, do you see what's been happening in Ferguson as an incident that stands alone or linked to other things? And what might prevent this in other places?

WRIGHT: Well, I think you're seeing in Capt. Ronald Johnson a good example of what could prevent it, which is the kind of policing that takes the community seriously and that sees them as partners and folks that you're there to serve as opposed to harass. And I think what links this event and many of the others we've seen before it is that it's a mundane interaction - walking in the middle of the street in this case - that leads to a fatal action. And that is, again, the tip of the iceberg for a kind of policing that creates a hostile climate in these communities and has been doing it since at least the beginning of the war on drugs. And that's the thing that has to be remedied.

SIMON: Kai Wright is editor-at-large for colorlines.com. Thanks very much for being with us.

WRIGHT: Thanks for having me.

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