The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown would be the catalyst that spurred the Black Lives Matter movement onwards. And Ferguson would be the centre of the revolution.
Brown, an unarmed, young black man was shot multiple times and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. He was accused of stealing cigarettes from a local store and was approached Wilson in his police car (as he was nearby and matched the description of the suspect). It is alleged by witnesses that Brown reached into the police car and hit Wilson and in retaliation, he fired two shots – both missed Brown, although one did graze his thumb. Allegedly Brown then ran away but stopped and held his hands up when Wilson exited his police car. Witnesses state that Brown held both hands up and pleaded with Wilson not to shoot. While others claim that Brown did not raise his hands at all, and started to walk towards Wilson. Police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times, two in the head, he was killed instantly.
Ferguson was angry. This was a pattern that the black community knew all too well. They viewed the death of Michael Brown like they did Trayvon Martin, John Crawford and Erc Garner, another unlawful killing of an innocent black man, and another example of police brutality. The protests began in St Louis, as crowds of people gathered to protest, not only the death of Michael Brown but the police brutality against the black community. And a judicial system that does not enforce any repercussions.
On the 24th November 2014, The grand jury of St Louis declined to indict Darren Wilson. This only increased tensions in Ferguson, which subsequently lead to more protests. However, the state drew national and worldwide attention when the police force retaliated with armoured vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets and sound canons. People were both shocked and horrified to witness the amount of force used on protesters. With authorities claiming that the police were there to stop the violence and to make sure that the protesters did not block any roads.
Oxford dictionary definition of the hashtag is: “A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic”. And that is exactly what users did, they saw the horrifying war-like images from the news, or read articles and went onto social media to voice their opinions, giving life to the Black Lives Matters movement.
The use of the hashtag was crucial, in relation to Ferguson. Following Michael Brown’s death, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag appeared on average 58,747 times per day. But this tripled on November 24th, 2014, when the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson. On that day the hashtag appeared 172,772 times and throughout the upcoming weeks was used over 1.7 million times. On August 9th, 2015, the one year anniversary of Brown’s death, the hashtag appeared 120,067 times in a single day. Visit Hashtagify and search #BlackLivesMatter for a deeper analysis of the hashtag.
Considering that the first mention of #BlackLivesMatter was used on a Facebook page a little under a year previous to that, it highlights the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement made during that time. Further analysis shows that the hashtag was used across multiple continents. The national coverage of the protests in Ferguson demonstrated how quickly a movement can grow when given attention. Ferguson exemplified the true power of the hashtag, how a movement can become a world-wide name in such a short space of time.
Thank you for reading my post. View my interactive timeline that starts with the death of Trayvon Martin and follows the movement to the end of 2017!