“They Can’t Kill Us All” (Book Review)

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter for the Washington Post who gained a reputation through his coverage of Ferguson protests and the ongoing Movement for Black Lives surrounding police violence and accountability. Lowery’s coverage of #BlackLivesMatter activists is not merely reporting from afar, but a collaboration of shared experiences. Lowery is a young black man whose first vote for president was for Obama, and, as he writes, Obama’s election soon served as more of a wake up call to young black activists than a reassurance.

“…the nation’s grappling with race and the legacy of its original sin- ongoing since the first slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619- was and is far from over. Any facade of a postracial reality was soon melted away amid the all-consuming eight-year flame of racial reckoning that Obama’s election had sparked. Ferguson would make the arrival on the national stage of a new generation of black political activists… an era many considered to be post-civil rights.”

The murder of a 18 year old African American man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer represented a symbol of black resident’s own oppression in the Ferguson neighborhood he was from, and soon Brown became a symbol on the national stage.

“While the photos and videos from the day of Brown’s death had certainly gone viral- viewed and shared thousands of times- it was the destruction of the QuikTrip, not the police shooting of Mike Brown, that brought the microscope of the national media to Ferguson… Yet another police shooting in a working-class black neighborhood, even the breaking of a young black body left on public display, didn’t catch the gaze of the national media. It was the community’s enraged response- broken windows and shattered storefronts- that drew the eyes of the nation.”

Lowery writes about how sometimes the media’s scrutiny of the specific characters of people in the story sometimes takes away from the

‘These are not isolated incidents, yet the media’s focus on the victim and the officer inadvertently erases the context of the nation’s history as it relates to race, policing, and training for law enforcement. And by focusing on the character of the victim, we inadvertently take the focus off the powerful and instead train our eyes and judgment on the powerless… In those early days, the national media litigated Mike Brown, rather than litigating the shooting. We placed the burden of proof on the dead teenager, not the officer who had shot and killed him.”

The new generation of civil rights activists are challenging respectability politics- a term which refers to when marginalized groups attempt to police their own members to appear compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging them.

“Who is the perfect victim? Michael Brown? Kajieme Powell? Eric Garner? Sandra Bland? Freddie Gray? Young activists reframed the question: Does it matter?” For too long, many of the activists have declared, black bodies had been extinguished by police officers without public accountability or explanation. For all the stories of police abuse, brutality, and impunity that had been shared at black dinner tables, barbershops, and barstools for generations, these basic facts went ignored or unacknowledged by the nation at large.”

“They Can’t Kill Us All” was an excellent education on the past five years of the modern Civil Rights movement in America represented by the Movement for Black Lives. I recommend this book to anyone looking to get a clearer picture of the events that have taken place, and the actors that have helped to push the social justice movements forward and create the energy that is still gaining momentum to this day.

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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