Michael Brown’s Death Sparked a National Dialogue

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Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot and killed by police last weekend in Ferguson, Missouri. He was supposed to start college this week. The incident sparked days of protest in the town, and showed a growing divide between law enforcement and citizens. The police originally said that prior to being killed, Brown tried to take the officer’s gun. A witness to the crime, Brown’s friend, said the boy’s hands were up and it was clear he was trying to cooperate. Now law enforcement claims that he was involved in a strong-arm robbery prior to the shooting. The story is unclear, muddled, and deeply problematic.

Incidents like this are not uncommon. Some have drawn parallels to the killing of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. And like those incidents, Michael Brown’s killing got big, quickly.

Social media, especially Twitter, exploded with hashtags, pictures, and stories of other similar situations. Michael Brown’s story didn’t stay in Ferguson for too long. In a matter of hours, it was all over the country. What started as raging fire on social media turned into protests and riots in Ferguson. Police responded quickly, and situation has continued to escalate. Many have called for the name of the police officer who killed Brown to be released, and despite the fact that the name has now been released, there are still more questions than answers.

And people besides social media activists and residents of the town have taken notice. Missouri’s Governor made a statement, The FBI announced it would conduct an investigation of the incident, and both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have made statements.

But much of the rhetoric surrounding this event has been about the bigger issue at hand here. While the death of Michael Brown is a tragedy in itself, the nation-wide dialogue has been focused on the killings and discrimination by police of young black men. Ferguson is a small town, and two thirds of its residents are black. But on the police force, there are 50 white officers, but only three black ones. Situations like this are repeated in towns around the country.

Many point to what happened in Ferguson as a microcosm of what is happening in the rest of America. And through social media, there has been increased awareness on the issues–both in Ferguson, and beyond. One of the biggest hashtags to come out of the incident was #IfIWasGunnedDown. People posted two pictures of themselves–one in a very flattering light, and one in a light in which they thought the media would portray them should they be killed.

Another picture that went viral was from students of Howard University. Thousands gathered and stood with the same pose–hands in the air–and Tweeted the picture out. In a matter of hours, it had thousands of favorites and re-tweets.

And though the narrative has been similar for some time now, with many young people taking part in the conversation, it seems that more and more leaders on the national level are taking notice and getting involved. Not only are they discussing this specific instance of violence, but the larger, deeply rooted problems in American society. Obama discussed transparency in local police departments. Nancy Pelosi made a statement imploring the Justice Department to investigate Brown’s death. And Rand Paul wrote in Time about a “systematic problem with today’s law enforcement.”

It remains unclear what will happen as a result of Michael Brown’s death. And there is absolutely no way to know whether the calls for change in the justice system, police force, and overall mentality in America will come to fruition. But with these all too common events going viral more often, it may just be a matter of time until something substantive comes as a result of these tragic losses.

[Huffington Post] [Huffington Post] [Holder Statement] [Pelosi Statement] [Howard Picture]



Molly Hogan
Molly Hogan is a student at The George Washington University and formerly an intern at Law Street Media. Contact Molly at



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