The video opened like it was a Blair Witch Project movie; “Stay with me,” the actor said.
Only it wasn’t an act. It was Diamond Reynolds pleading with her boyfriend, Philando Castile, who was near death after a police officer shot him during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Within a day, more than nearly three million people watched Castile die on Reynolds’ Facebook Live stream.
“That,” said Luvvie Ajayi known as Awesomely Luvvie, “was the moment I got Facebook live.”
Overnight, Castile became the Rosa Parks of police killings, the “perfect” victim. The elementary school cafeteria manager was doing nothing wrong when he was shot and thanks to Facebook Live, the world saw what happened in the aftermath of his killing. Because of the viral and permanent nature of social media, the world can’t forget it.
The initial incident is posted, retweeted, and amplified over and over again. But that’s no longer the end. Thanks to social media, families of those killed don’t have to wait for mainstream media to tell their story. They can go directly to their Twitter accounts.
“Citizen journalism has democratized [social justice],” Luvvie explained at the National Association of Black Journalists and the joint convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Raising awareness of an injustice is as easy as creating a hashtag for #AltonSterling, who was videotaped being shot by police who were already restraining Sterling on the ground.
The grassroots groundswell surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin marks the beginning of hashtag justice. It wasn’t until after Martin’s death went viral with demands for an arrest that George Zimmerman was taken into custody. Whether or not it was the case, the scene had the feel of the community forcing the police and prosecutor to do their jobs.
Law enforcement officials, unprepared for this social media onslaught, haven’t been caught this flatfooted since the crack cocaine epidemic emerged in the 1980s. They handled that terribly. Perhaps they will do better this time.