Several books have been written exposing the racial dynamics of police use of excessive force on unarmed Black citizens. Whether the authors are activist protesting police violence, family members of the deceased or authors examining the causes and affects of what appears to be murder by the police, these stories give us a fresh perspective on a generations old problem. With a legacy built on the tradition of Black reporters who covered the civil rights movement of the 60’s we have a new cadre of Black and white reporters covering todays protest against police violence. The Death of Eric Garner, by James Crothers and I Can’t Breathe, by Matt Taibbi come to mind.
We witnessed the death of Travon Martin as the flash point in the use of social media as a foundation for Black protest against police violence against Black citizens, but the death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson. Missouri, is where young Black People found their voice using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to organize and lead, often multiracial, coalitions to protest police violence often caught on video.
The author, Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post, tells of his experiences covering the most highly profiled police killings starting with Michael Brown’s death by officer Darren Wilson. They Can’t Kill Us ALL is a detailed story of his reporting assignments covering the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in North Charleston, Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the murder of 9 parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The intersection of the Obama presidency, as a symbol of a post racial America, and the long and continued tradition of police violence against Black People, witnessed on video minutes after it happens on social media, exposes the contradiction of the idea of American democracy.
Wesley Lowery is a graduate of Ohio University and was a member of a team of reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for Fatal Force. An analysis of police shootings in America. Lowery begins the book describing his own arrest during his assignment in Ferguson, and this account makes it clear that the police used whatever excuse they could imagine to arrest protesters and reporters alike.
In addition to the primary focus Lowery gives to these high profile police killings, there is the anecdotal information he gives of other equally disturbing killings that don’t make the national news. Like the story of Milton Hall, of Saginaw, Michigan, who suffered from mental illness and was killed in 2012 when 8 police officers fired 49 bullets, killing him, for stealing a cup of coffee. And Timothy Russell and Milissa Williams who were killed in a barrage of 137 bullets after a high speed car chase with police. 11 of which where fired at the end of the chase when officer Michael Brelo jumped on the hood of the car and fired into the bodies of Russell and Williams. The judge couldn’t find cause to charge Brelo because it could not be proven that his gun fired the fatal shots.
The book is also Lowery’s witness of the people who he interviews: families of the dead, community leaders and activist who travel from across the country to protest and city officials who were confronted with something never before imagined. He tells of a nurse who approached Michael Brown body, as it lay in the street, to give medical care when a Ferguson police officer pointed his gun at her and said “get the fuck back!” In less than 2 years Lowery reported on the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and the victims at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and it took a toll on him.
I found this book valuable because it reminded me of stories, and their details, I had forgotten and gave me insight into the lives of people close to these tragedies I knew very little about. I recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the motivations and lives of activist who confess that these murders are when they come of age politically and find their voices in these times of crisis.