CW: Police brutality, racial violence
This week begins a very timely “vacation” for Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Several days ago, Ingraham fired off a tweet mocking David Hogg, a student survivor of the recent Parkland shooting and a prominent member of March for Our Lives. “David Hogg Rejected by Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it,” Ingraham wrote. “Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates” (Twitter, @IngrahamAngle, 03.28.2018).
Rather than directly rebuking the pundit, Hogg compiled a list of advertisers for “The Ingraham Angle” and asked his over 700,000 Twitter followers to write to them about what the Fox News commentator had said (Twitter, @davidhogg111, 03.28.2018). Since then, at least 15 companies have pulled their sponsorships from Ingraham’s nighttime hour. Even notoriously unapologetic Fox News has taken notice, granting Ingraham an all-too-convenient week-long vacation (CBS News, “Advertisers bail as Laura Ingraham goes on vacation,” 4.2.2018).
Ingraham’s present situation is the latest testament to the expanding influence and authority of the March for Our Lives movement. Indeed the movement has proven threatening even to America’s most powerful political institutions.
However, media coverage of those who truly challenge power is hard-won and fades quickly. There is no certainty that Hogg or any other activists from March for Our Lives will be able to create this type of stir next year, or even next month. In this day and age when information and news stream constantly through our consciousness, public outcry in response to tragedy rarely lasts long. The key to longevity for March for Our Lives, then, must be to stand with those struggling for equity and justice on other fronts, most notably those fighting against police violence and institutional racism.
On March 18, police officers encountered 22-year-old Sacramento native Stephon Clark standing in his grandmother’s backyard, and, mistaking his cell phone for a weapon, fired 20 rounds, killing him (Vox, “Stephon Clark was shot by Sacramento Police eight times from behind or the side, autopsy finds,” 3.30.2018). This incident has sparked popular protest and added to the ongoing conversation surrounding police violence against individuals and communities of color. In a similar recent case, the State of Louisiana ruled that it will not bring charges against the officers responsible for the shooting of 37-year-old Baton Rouge local Alton Sterling. Cell phone video taken at the incident shows Sterling being pinned to the ground outside of a convenience store before being killed by two police officers (CNN, “No charges against officers in Alton Sterling death,” 3.27.2018).
Never in recent memory have these two critical issues, police brutality and mass shootings, captivated the public eye with such synchronicity. Yet as much as police brutality and mass shootings share fundamental characteristics, it is striking how inversely they are perceived. The young, predominantly white student activists of March for Our Lives come from a position of privilege, as they are more marketable in the public eye and more attractive to the media. While so much of the Parkland story is being rightly told and retold, the facts about incidents of police brutality are left vague and given little justice in the public forum.
In 2014, Eric Garner was killed by a New York City police officer who kept him in a chokehold, even after Garner repeatedly asserted that he could not breathe (CNN, “Choke hold by cop killed NY man, medical examiner says,” 8.2.2018). Although the video of Garner’s death was widely shared via news outlets and social media, much about the offending police officer in front of the camera remained unscrutinized. The American public jumps at the opportunity to analyze and profile mass shooters, yet comparatively little is said about those who can kill on the authority of the state. Moreover, those in power tend to employ victim-blaming strategies to dismiss calls for change. Many news outlets used Garner’s disabilities to blame him for his death (New York Times, “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death,” 06.13.2015). These regressive narratives were widely circulated; sitting New York Republican Congressman Peter King commented, “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died” (BBC, “Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying,” 12.8.2013). The deaths of Sandra Bland, Ethan Saylor, John Williams and countless others have been, and continue to be, assigned such narratives as well.
Coverage—and, as a result, popular understanding—of mass shootings and of police violence diverges at a key point: In the former case, the killer is the center of attention, but in the latter, they rarely are. The reason is ultimately simple. Protesting violence committed by individual citizens is a more digestable rallying point than is dismantling violence committed by the state. For the primarily white student survivors of the Parkland shooting, wall-to-wall media coverage has been overwhelmingly supportive; those activists striving to end police brutality against communities of color, on the other hand, were never granted the same popular legitimacy.
In this way, March for Our Lives has been given a voice that other, less privileged movements do not have. With this rare institutional power comes the responsibility of ensuring that they represent more than themselves. Indeed, March for Our Lives has already done well on this front, as their initial efforts to make their movement more diverse and inclusive have been widely applauded (Huffington Post, “The March For Our Lives Was Inclusive. Here’s How To Make Sure Its Agenda Is, Too.” 3.29.18)
We at The Miscellany News firmly believe that this spirit of solidarity must continue. Activist movements have never succeeded while divided, and activism is never the stronger for avoiding such nexuses as that which exists between police violence and mass shootings. Just as it drew millions of people to the streets on March 24 to protest violence in schools, March for Our Lives must itself be drawn into the fight against violence of all other forms. It is through shared interests that we find common cause, and through that a united front against injustice.
–– The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.