The shooting of a young African-American man, Michael Brown, happened just over a year ago on August 11, 2014 and Ferguson residents commemorated the one-year anniversary last week with vigils, rallies, and protests. American cities such as New York, Baltimore, Arlington continue to be besieged by racially-motivated violence which have been followed by protests this year demanding justice for Black communities. Those who are active on social media may recognize the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that was started by activists following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013 for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The hashtag gained momentum in Autumn 2014, peaking end of November when the police officer who shot Brown was not indicted.
The hashtag remains as a call to action due to the many questionable shootings of African-Americans by the police: Freddie Gray from Baltimore was thought to have died in the hands of the police in April 2015 and Christian Taylor was killed by a rookie police officer on August 7.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag originally began as a call for police reform, and has since evolved to encompass the many forms of oppression that shape and constrain Black communities in America, and beyond. As the Black Lives Matter website states, “This is not a moment, but a movement”. As we will see, the conversation on social media continues.
#BlackLivesMatter during one year commemoration
We take a look at the issues which coalesced around the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag during the one year anniversary of Michael Brown last week. Our analysis will provide us a clearer idea of the major social trends that currently intersect with this movement.
A vigil and rallies were organized by activist groups on August 9 in Ferguson to remember Michael Brown, but the event turned violent on Sunday with the shooting and hospitalization of Tyrone Harris Jr, an 18 year who was believed to be armed. Twenty-two people were arrested and Ferguson was under emergency until Friday.
On August 10 and 11, the conversation under the #BlackLivesMatters hashtag (42,600 posts) mentioned #Ferguson (5,516 posts), obviously, but also encompassed national events taking place outside Ferguson, likely in commemoration of the one anniversary.
Hashtags related to Bernie Sanders dominate the conversation as his rally was disrupted by two Black Lives Matters activists who took his microphone and demanded that Sanders do more for racial equality. Hillary Clinton incited controversy this summer with her statement that “all lives matter” which some saw as undermining the struggles faced by Black communities. This debate continues on Twitter, with interpretations such as the one below going viral:
Conversations around Mike Brown and Tyrone Harris
According to the hashtag rankings, the shooting and hospitalization of Tyrone Harris Jr. (523x) was not as prominent as one might expect considering that it took place in Ferguson. Mike Brown continued to be invoked more frequently (688x), likely because he was unarmed when facing the police, and died.
The pie charts below show that social media posts around Tyrone Harris describe the shooting event and refer to his previous arrests and bail. In contrast, the shooting of Mike Brown is associated with words such as “powerful”, and “truth” resonates more with the injustices felt by African-Americans. The unfortunate circumstances of Mike Brown’s death showcased the need for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he will likely continue to be invoked as long as this movement is alive.
(yrs = “years”)
The anniversary of Michael Brown follows a tumultuous year of police shootings and coincides with the beginning of the American presidential campaign. The Black Lives Matter movement now traverses local (for example, Ferguson) and national spaces, and certainly digital social media platforms too where “on the ground” reporting has been provided by a variety of participants.