How is the Michael Brown case different from Trayvon Martin? Superficially, the cases are quite similar, so why is the outcry – in Ferguson and on the internet – more amplified this time around?
The difference is that the Internet has become a far more powerful tool for social change in the past two years. While there is no video of Michael Brown being shot, the story is the climax of a series of instances of police brutality that have been caught on film thanks to ubiquitous iPhones.
The Ferguson protests are a response, not only to the shooting of Michael Brown, but to the videotaped death of Eric Garner, a viral Youtube sensation. The protests are in response to photos of police choking a pregnant woman outside her house, video of police beating an old homeless woman on the freeway. Everything dirty the police do now, there is always somebody there ready to press the “play” button.
The ongoing riots in Ferguson this week signal a major sea change. Since everyone, even the poor, now have the internet in their hands at all times, police cannot carry on as usual. Police can no longer get away with brutality, as they have grown accustomed.
While there is no video of Michael Brown getting shot, police have been caught saying and doing stupid things on camera in the course of the Ferguson protests.
There is also the photo of Michael Brown lying dead. I think this photo is destined to become iconic – Michael Brown is seeping blood and the police officer in the background seems not to give a shit:
Wednesday night was a momentous night to be on Twitter. The website was performing precisely the function its founders envisioned – individuals around the world were connected to the protestors in Ferguson, coalescing into an unstoppable force.
The tweets from journalists on the scene – several of whom were brutally arrested (FERGUSON POLICE: how stupid are you?!) – were some of the finest tweets I have ever seen. My favorite tweet came from one of my idols, Rembert Browne, when the police brutalized his iPhone.
When I read Rembert’s tweet, it felt like the police had broken MY iPhone. Breaking an iPhone is the most common source of trauma in the modern age, and I felt like I was sharing it with a great man on the scene at Ferguson.
I woke up this morning and watched the anonymous “Operation Ferguson” video:
I was unaware of Operation Ferguson until today, but what they are doing is remarkable. It is straight out of a movie. Hacking the police, shutting down City Hall, releasing names of uncooperative officers. The tactics of these anonymous protestors are intense – one must remember that, in their own words, they are fighting a war online.
The last words of the video are chilling:
We Are Anonymous.
We Are Legion.
We do Not Forgive.
We do Not Forget.
Ferguson, Expect us.
This was why I was originally drawn to the internet as a young man: I was interested in how individuals could stand up to large groups – even the government – using technology. Contrary to fears that the internet is going to strengthen the powers of the police state, I believe that it will serve as an egalitarian force. I believe that the internet empowers the powerless, and this is a trend that will intensify over time.
One thing I particularly respect about Operation Ferguson is that they are making legislative demands: they are asking for national legislation on police brutality. This is a refreshing change from the olden days of Internet activism – I’m thinking “Occupy Wall Street” – where the protesters seemed to simply want to protest.
Operation Ferguson, while it still has juvenile elements to it, shows that Internet activism is growing up!
I can’t remember ever having seen technology subvert authority the way Operation Ferguson is doing now. The hackers behind Operation Ferguson could be using their talents to build a fortune for themselves, but instead of working on the next billion dollar startup, they are using their talents to prompt social change. Even if you think their tactics are extreme, you have to respect their ideals.
I am proud of the Internet today.