How I Cope When Another Black Teenager Has Been Shot Down

by Stacia L. Brown for Buzzfeed

All we need now is a name. Nobody waits for a mugshot or allows media outlets to choose a photo of the slain anymore. The name of the victim — so often black, so often unarmed — is all we need to begin our search.

If the person gunned down or assaulted by a white police officer was at all active on social media, an amorphous online collective of activists and other people who care about the survival of black people will track down their accounts within hours of the first news report. We’ll read their Twitter feeds, share their Instagram photos, circulate their Snapchats. Sleuthing gives us something to do when the news of another police-involved shooting death leaves us at our most helpless.

News broke Friday morning that Texas college student Christian Taylor, 19, had been killed around 1 a.m. by Officer Brad Miller, a 49-year-old rookie in his final stages of field training. By daybreak, Twitter users began sharing a tweet from a week before Taylor was shot dead:

At the time of this writing, that tweet has been shared over 17,000 times, and a tweet from filmmaker Ava DuVernay that quotes it has been shared an additional 30,000. It wasn’t the only time Taylor had been candid about his fear of dying at an early age or at the hands of police. His other tweets, rounded up by Vibe magazine, expressed ongoing concern that the police would not protect him.

His politics were familiar. Sandra Bland — the 28-year-old black woman who was assaulted, arrested, then found dead in her jail cell of an alleged suicide — used her Twitter feed to amplify rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement. Bland started her own hashtag, #SandySpeaks, and embedded call-to-action video clips. Like Taylor’s tweets, they are haunting and tragic in the aftermath of her death.

Mining the digital footprints of the victims of racially motivated crimes for selfies and tweets might seem like a ghoulish activity. And it does sometimes make it feel like the victims are speaking to us from beyond the grave. But when the alternative is to allow law enforcement and traditional media outlets to cherry-pick photos of the deceased to fit their own agenda—he was a thug or he was a child; she was thriving or she was depressed— who could blame us?

In the three years since Trayvon Martin was killed — his own social media accounts plumbed by news outlets for incriminating photographs — a generation of social media–savvy black teens and young adults have become hyperaware of what it means to make one’s thoughts public online. It’s no coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement began with a hashtag. Ignored or warped by the traditional media, black people have identified the sustainable political potential of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more.

But more recent hashtags responding to the deaths of unarmed black men and women, like #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, have crystallized the grim reality that we may be survived by our tweets. Young people who witness near daily police shootings and racially motivated murders are preparing for the prospect of a life cut short. They’re tweeting everything from hopes for long, successful lives to what they would want others to do in protest of their killing or in lieu of private mourning. “If I’m arrested today please know I’m not suicidal,” one activist wrote. “I have plenty to live for. I did not resist, I’m just black.”

It’s a powerful and chilling development: young people of color sharing what could become their last will and testament. They’re shooting cell phone footage that could be admissible in the trials that follow their deaths. They’re erecting memorials in their own honor, typing micro-obituaries.

Continue reading at Buzzfeed.

Photo: Shutterstock 

Stacia L. Brown was born in Lansing, MI. She grew up in Baltimore, MD–the county, not the city. She graduated from Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University) with a BA in English that didn’t really help her land any jobs. She worked a few office gigs, while trying to jump-start her writing career. At 27, she finished an MFA in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. She spent the next six and a half years working as an adjunct writing professor first in Michigan, then in Maryland. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Atlantic, Slate, and many other publications.

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