On September 17, 2011, countless people flooded the Manhattan’s Financial District in Liberty Square to protest the economic inequality that had gotten out of hand. This movement has spread to over 1,500 cities globally and has had significant impact in each city respectively. This movement was known as the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Movement. The aim of the protesters was to raise awareness and fight back against the richest 1% of the people who write the rules without regard of anyone else. As stated on their site, occupywallst.org, their main purpose is to level the playing field financially, usurp the over-entitled from their positions, and alleviate the financial burden on the lower classes. Many believe this movement failed, while others think that it made a significant, positive impact. Regardless of that particular movement, others took the “occupy” mentality and spun it their own way. With more and more groups backpacking off of the OWS movement, one caught traction with a different group of disenfranchised people that was known as the “Occupy Harlem” or “Occupy the Hood” movement. This group was established to bring awareness to the omnipotent amount of racism that specifically blacks received. To demonstrate how this particular movement made an impact, there are a few people’s stories that are pertinent to the Occupy Harlem movement specifically.
On Sunday August 12, 2014 the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown would spread rapidly across social media platforms. The popular social media that helped rally protesters was Twitter. People of all backgrounds were tweeting about the incident and included hashtags such as, #Ferguson, #MikeBrown, and #OccupyHarlem. The more popular hashtag used in this case was #Ferguson. This hashtag was not only used to support the Michael Brown case, but it was used to express the devastation that overcame many individuals. This use of Twitter is essentially what is referred to as Black Twitter. The use of these hashtags helped virtual communities communicate about cultural issues. Twitter provided a place for protestors to spread the word about peaceful protests and candlelight vigils. Black Twitter has helped the Michael Brown Shooting gain a lot of attention on a continuing issue, colorblindness.
Colorblindness is an idea that very few whites claim to be racist. These whites are blind to the fact that although they say they are not racist, they blame blacks for their own sensitivity to the race problem. “It is no longer the central factor determining minorities’ life chances.” This quote is a reference for colorblindness and is a perfect referencing point towards the Michael Brown Shooting. According to the USA Today timeline article on the day of and days after the shooting, Michael Brown was unarmed as he and a friend walked down the street moments after a burglary that made a police officer suspicious. A young black man is most times the ideal suspect in situations like this. How could Michael Brown explain his situation when the officer made a rash decision when he shot and killed him? This is an example that race still does determine minorities life chances. One tweet that may explain why whites are colorblind was tweeted by Joseph Jett. Joseph Jett has 26,000 followers and is a Black Harvard Alum. His tweet made reference to Michael Brown and said, “It is difficult to hold Police to a higher standard when we hold ourselves to no standard at all #Ferguson #Blacklivesmatter”.
I had to read this several times before I understood what Jett was referencing. Jett is simply saying that police are looked up to and are thought of as a protector, which is why they are held to a higher standard, but the black community is not held to anything. The black community should be held to a strong and powerful standard, but they must first hold themselves to that standard.
One of the major stories surrounding the influence of social media on a racial issue would date back to February of 2012. 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking alone at night with an Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles when he was gunned down by the neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. George acted impulsively out of a racist lens that led him to believe that Trayvon was dangerous just because of his skin color. This case has been referred to by many as another person guilty of “walking while black.” This has been the reason for countless stop-and-frisks by the police for the black community. This epistemology of racism has been happening for way to long, and continues to spread through the community without any sign of reform. One of the worst aspects of the Trayvon Martin case is that George Zimmerman was acquitted, or found innocent, of his crime. This not only deeply upset the black community and those who rallied for Trayvon, but it also upset everyone who trusted the justice system. The shock was even spoken about by President Barack Obama. As one reporter from the Huffington Post wrote, “The president recalled how when he was younger and not famous, people sitting in cars would lock their doors at the sight of a young black man walking down the street. The people in their automobiles may not have thought their actions betrayed racism or prejudice, yet the youthful Obama knew he posed no threat, so their instincts to seal themselves behind steel and glass stemmed from baseless fear.” This touches on the racist instincts that are in people and have been for decades, and it is exactly what instinct George Zimmerman acted on.
Because of this travesty that occurred, referring to the acquittal of Zimmerman, there have been several pushes via social media to find George Zimmerman guilty of murder in the first degree. People started petitions on MoveOn.Org and Change.Org that reached digital signatures in the millions. Along with such petitions were hashtags that gained massive amounts of traction such as: #Blackout4Trayvon and #JusticeForTrayvon. #Blackout4Trayvon was a movement that raised awareness of the entire situation which helped in the “Million Hoodie March.” #JusticeForTrayvon was a hashtag to raise cognizance about the wrongdoing of Zimmerman and to help find him guilty for the heinous crime he committed. All these and more were influenced and supported by the Occupy Harlem group and millions of others. This exemplifies the usefulness and reach of social media extremely well and has even been visible in other cases like the recent Michael Brown shooting.
One of the major movements in the OccupyHarlem movement is the story of Sean Bell. Bell’s story hasn’t had as much of a recent impact as the other OccupyHarlem movements such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Sean Bell’s story is important and has had a huge outcry in social media. On November 25, 2006, three men were shot a total of 50 times by a team of undercover NYPD. Taking the life of Sean Bell the night before his wedding and put the other men in critical condition. According to the Huffington Post, Sean Bell’s wife was quoted saying, “This was supposed to be the best day of my life and now it’s the worst.” This is an extremely sad tragedy that didn’t have to occur. The police thought that maybe Sean Bell or one of his friends might have a gun; however, they did not. Three detectives involved in the shooting went to trial on charges for first and second degree manslaughter and many other charges. All of these detectives were found not guilty. This sparked huge criticism of the police from the public. Social media played an important role in protesting this shooting. Some of the main forms of social media used to protest were Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. The public sent out many tweets in regard to the matter with trending hashtags. Some of these hashtags include: #SeanBell, #OccupyHarlem, #MLK, #NYPD, and more. These hashtags made it easy for the public criticize and communicate their frustration to the NYPD. One question to this case was whether racism played a role.
Other than the fact that the New York Police Department displayed reckless behavior and shot up Sean Bell’s car on the hunch that someone in the car had a gun. The question in the public was whether colorblindness played any role in this shooting. If it was a group of white men in the car would it have still been shot at with 50 bullets? This is the question the public wants to know. Thousands of protesters came out the week of Bell’s death to protest the amount of force used against these men. Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg stated, “This shooting was inexplicable and unacceptable.” The public was on the side of Sean Bell and the other men who were shot in this horrific event. The community supported Sean Bell and his family through this rough time. With these OccupyHarlem movements it’s important that the public and black community stick together and support one another.
Another major event that took place within the Occupy Harlem movement was the case with 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. On November 19, 2011 former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain mistakenly triggered his life alert necklace. Police responded to the call, but Chamberlain needed no assistance. The police officers that were on the scene forcibly entered the home of Chamberlain tasing him and firing multiple gunshots, one of which punctured both lings and killed him. In a video of the event you can hear the white officers repeatedly using racial slurs towards Chamberlain. Similar to the Trayvon Martin case the police officers that were involved in the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain were all found to be not guilty. This angered the black community very much, and they stuck together to try and get justice for Kenneth.
The use of social media in this case was very strong. With such a senseless act of violence taking place, many people took to many different social media sites to voice their opinions and wanted to be heard. The #OccupyHarlem, #OccupytheMarines, and #PoliceBrutality were some of the major hash tags that people used to talk about the Chamberlain case along with many others. These hash tags made it possible for a lot more people to become familiar with the case. All it takes is for one person to voice their opinion and start the trend and people will follow. Along with people acknowledging and following this case on Twitter and other social media pages, the son of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr started an online petition. The purpose of this petition was to get more people familiar with the case. The petition also served as a way to ask for an end to police brutality and misconduct. Kenneth Chamberlain Jr was trying to get to police officers who were involved charged with murder and civil rights violations. The petition received over 208,000 signatures. The following photo is a flyer that was sent out to celebrate the life of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr, and was taken from the Facebook page dedicated to him called “Justice For Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.”
The question that is being asked with this case is was the use of racism demonstrated in the actions of the police officers, or were they doing what they thought was right. It was claimed that Chamberlain had a butcher knife, but there was no evidence of that. What made people jump to the conclusion of racism and sparked the social media frenzy was when the audio of the incident was released. Like I stated earlier you can hear officer Steven Hart calling Chamberlain an “n-word” which is why people are claiming that the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain was racially motivated.
The Occupy movement to this point has been very active and extremely moving. It has led generations of people from different and similar backgrounds to unite under one banner and protest the violence and discrimination that all these people received. The single most influential thing that really rallied the public and brought them together was social media and the outreach that it had. From hashtags on twitter to petitions online, the people were obviously the biggest driving force behind the movements.