Tuesday, May 9, 2017

BLM Analysis - THE FINAL PAPER



Joshua Oliver
COMM 274
Doctor Vrooman

The BLM Movement Analysis – Final Paper

          It began as a hashtag on Twitter, and it exploded in the media. What began as a response to an isolated event in Ferguson, Missouri, erupted around the United States. Soon, support grew and prevalent racism in the police force reared its ugly head. Now, the mainstream media seems to have abandoned this movement, but it is still alive on its home turf. That movement is the Black Lives Matter movement, and the #BLM remains in many a tweet.

          In 2014, #BlackLivesMatter hit Twitter in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown by two white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, the pages of the movement and victims of police violence have been flooded with thousands of tweets, ranging from the “clumping” of hashtags of victim’s names, to sarcasm about police brutality, outright outrage, and even compassionate remembrance.

I looked at specifically the #TamirRice Twitter page. Tamir Rice was a 12-year old black teenager, who was gunned down by police under suspicious that he was waving a firearm (which was a toy gun) around in a playground and pointing it at people. I looked at roughly 30-45 tweets at a time, and per day as the “Top” page updated. Of the probably 72 tweets (not including the redundancies) I found from the #TamirRice page, only 3 stood out. The first was by Tommy TheFamily (@tommythefamily), and he wrote:

“Nothing was learned by ANY police department from the #TamirRice murder.

Business as usual.

Every cop wants to be a #KillClubMember in the US.”

          Tommy’s tweet obviously reeks of sarcasm and resentment to the police’s actions, which is understandable, given the circumstances around the shooting of Tamir Rice. Tommy is not, however, above committing fallacies in his response. The use of the “ANY” is an accent fallacy, in which emphasis of a word is used to make something right or true. That is comparatively minor against the last line in the tweet, which serves as a hotbed for numerous fallacies: “Every cop wants to be a #KillClubMember in the US.” Hasty Generalization and Accident fallacies are committed, as there is no sample size or provided evidence for the claim, and Tommy assumes that every police officer is ready and willing to shoot any suspect for any reason. Tommy TheFamily may also be jumping on a Bandwagon, or siding with the popular opinion under the assumption that it is true, and attempting Wishful Thinking, where he wants all policemen and policewomen to want to be killers and murders. On a final note with this tweet, a No True Scotsman setting could be established under the assertion of the last line – it is also as if Tommy is saying that ‘All cops are killers, and any cop that is not a kill or does not want to be a killer is not truly a cop.’

          Another tweet that got my attention was a picture of a teddy bear, in a green jacket, lying on its back in front of a set of steps. This picture was posted by The Root (@TheRoot) on April 25th, making it somewhat recent. The purpose of the tweet is actually a link to an article about the two officers involved in the Tamir Rice shooting having conflicting reports; however, my focus was on the photo itself. Without context, this seems just like a regular photo a parent, a child or even an art student would take. On face value, it is just a simple teddy bear – but it is the symbolism and the angles in which the photo is taken are the important parts, making the context rather dark.

          The teddy bear is Tamir, and it lying on its back symbolizes death. Tamir was killed by police with gunfire, and he likely was gunned down while facing them, to fall back dead. It is an abstract symbol, and it is shot from a close-distance. This close-up on the teddy bear makes the picture feel as if it is in your face, demanding your attention. This effect makes the picture feel both close to you and as an urgent matter.

          The final tweet and picture I found on the #TamirRice page was a picture by NIKKOLAS (@4NIKKOLAS). The picture, or rather artwork, was posted in conjunction to a poem sir NIKKOLAS wrote to commemorate the final hours of Tamir’s life. When I saw this picture, I felt my heart stop.

          A young boy, Tamir Rice, smiles. He wears a red jacket and blue cargo pants, as a light shines behind him. The drawing is drawn in a somewhat abstract matter, following a blend of minor caricatures with a realistic factor – the result is a grand work.

          The visual values of the picture are only the tip of the iceberg. The image’s unspoken message is of Nommo and of shame on the perpetrators.

          Karenga stated in his article that Nommo is a creative force, a force of eliciting that which is good in man. The aesthetics of the picture are of Nommo – showing the good in Tamir, and showing the world that he is good. This visual use of Nommo is an appeal to emotion, and it very strong in its use.

          The other aspect, shame, is less prevalent but a slight presence is felt. Heather Brook Adams wrote “Rhetorics of Unwed Motherhood and Shame”, which tells of some women’s experiences in dealing with “the shame that they brought upon the family” from getting pregnant outside of marriage during the 1950s and 1960s. Shame, in “Rhetorics of Unwed Motherhood and Shame”, was a force used to protect the family name, and had the unwed mothers hide their guilt and the result of their sin. Shame, too, is a forced used in this picture, but not in the same way. Shame is used here as a way of exposure, to reveal the truth, and then to condemn the party at fault. This is the implied message in the picture:

“How could you do that to an innocent child?”

          Tamir was only 12 when he was shot by police; he did not even live to see his teenage years. The nonverbal statement of shame is simple but effective, and it is a major appeal to emotion. I could even go as far to say that this photo could pull on people’s heartstrings.

          Those were the three tweets that were the highlights of the group. The #TamirRice page was always updating with new tweets daily, but none of them quite met the rhetorical impact that these three did.

          In addition to Twitter, the press was once a humongous entity in the struggle against the police violence against blacks. Today, press coverage for the Black Lives Matter movement and the movements to end police violence against blacks was waned, with most outlets focusing news coverage on the political tensions in the nation and around the Trump Administration. Despite the major contributors moving on the other “hot topics”, the Salon.com published an article to pronounce this shift and question why the suffering of blacks is snuffed out against claims of Russian influence, the “touching of the twats” (pardon my language), and the 45th President.

          Admittedly, the Salon.com article is effective at its delivery and it poses a good question. It has an argument on presumptions, and it does not shy away from profanity.

“The people who have influence are being distracted by the grabbing of the pussies…”

“As long as our black and brown brother and sisters are still dying and there is no accountability, I will march until I can’t march no longer…And even then, I’ll haunt y’all motherfuckers!”

          Pardon my language, but that is fucking awesome! I love a news outlet that is not afraid to speak its mind and does not fear the censor.

          Sadly, the article commits a fallacy – the Black and White fallacy. I intend no dry pun or humor here – the point is that the premise is made that if the press is not covering policy brutality on black civilians, then they are solely (key word is solely) focusing on coverage of the Trump Presidency and the Trump Whitehouse. The premise neglects the fact that local news networks cover weather, sports, local crime, and other vivid and shocking stories, in addition to Trump news and violence against blacks. Speaking of local news, the article only really discusses the major news networks, the national news networks, over the local networks. There is not anything technically wrong with this, but it makes the article appear a bit near-sighted.

          Finally, the Salon.com article utilizes shame against the national news networks in hopes of muckraking and eliciting a change to coverage of more stories of police brutality of blacks. It as if the article is stating:

“Apparently, Donald Trump is very important to the media, but Michael Brown, Traevon Martin, and Tamir Rice are not worthy of news coverage. Are the protests and riots in Ferguson lost to the rumors of Russian probes? Would the voices of the victims be silenced amid the debates over inauguration crowd size? How could there be so much coverage of one high-profile white man, while hundreds, if not thousands, of blacks victimized by police brutality and riot counter-measures be disregarded by the press? Shame on you, mass media!”

          The Salon.com is obviously outraged, and they are operating on a value-hierarchy by making such statement. The shame is not hidden, it is overt to guilt trip the mass media and to bring a change in coverage from public reaction.

          The Salon.com, in essence, is well-developed and is structured in a way to reveal a modern-day occurrence, which could have blindsided the public. It definitely is more reliable than the Twitter page, as it does not contain “trolls” and likely has more research and development of the claim.

          Moving on to the third major source of data was a YouTube video. “One Month in Ferguson – The Death of Michael Brown” was published by The Young Turks, and was an on-a-factual-basis response to the riots and events surrounding Ferguson. In my opinion, the video was well-made, gave the feeling that the viewer was in Ferguson, and avoided most fallacies. In fact, the video actually exposed some fallacies on the police’s behalf. The police committed a slippery slope fallacy and a quantifier shift fallacy. Slippery slope occurred from the police’s preemptive measures of mobilizing riot gear, using tear gas, and arming the police with military-grade weapons before any sort of mass protest or riots occurred. They knew that it would occur, and their response was to “cover their asses.” Damage control mode was on. As for Quantifier Shift, the police assumed that Michael Brown (as a black suspect) was armed and that he would resist arrest. The police fell victim to the stereotype that if a suspect (especially a black suspect) fails to comply with police orders during an arrest, the suspect intends other crimes or violent harm to the officers. Based on the stereotype and assumption that Michael would intend harm, the police shot him when he failed to comply with orders. The result lead to the previous fallacy when riot police were deployed.

          In addition to exposing fallacies within the police response, the video featured several schemes and Perelman argument themes. Among the most prevalent themes and rhetorical devices used, abstract hierarchies, presence – time and space, amplification, justice (quasi-logical device) and even an enthymeme were the standouts.

          Abstract Hierarchies clashed in Ferguson with the police’s value of justice (criminal justice) and law and order, against the people’s value for justice (in this case, proving the injustice of Michael’s wrongful death and having the killer cops brought to justice in court) and value for human life. The presence of Ferguson was felt, as it was displayed up close and personal, with the explosive events having a sense of urgency to them. Amplification occurred in the stylistic choices of filming – breaking down the entire situation of Ferguson, MO, and playing the events on a one-at-a time, as they occurred basis.

          The Quasi-logical theme of justice also poses a social question: Why do the police seem so keen to use lethal force, despite being equipped with Tasers, pepper spray, and nightsticks? Why do the officers pull their standard issue Glocks and Berretta pistols instead of using mace or a Taser to subdue a suspect? Michael’s death was only one incident where this has occurred, but another incident was shown in the video! From 9:07 to 9:27 in the video, a camera recording shows police gun down another black suspect (a Kajieme Powell), after receiving a call that he shoplifted and may have been in possession of a knife. Another black suspect, whom was supposedly armed, was killed by police using firearms after he failed to comply with their orders. Why did the officers not use a Taser or pepper spray first? Why did they have to shoot him? Why do they go straight for the kill rather than firing a warning shot?

          The final portion is an enthymeme. “One Month In Ferguson – The Death of Michael Brown” video lays out only the facts and the truths in the events surrounding Ferguson; yet, the collection of the clips and the methods used to present the videos within the video seem to incite a claim within the audience. There is an element of shame within the video, a “how could you do this” principle throughout. It as if the public is stating:

“How dare you kill Michael Brown and then suppress any riots before they occur! It is as if you know what you did and you are in damage control mode! Shame on you! We demand justice!”

The Young Turks certainly put the public’s use of shame on the police in view, but the overall presentation may serve a purpose other than informing the public outside of Ferguson. I believe that, based on the direction of filming and the claims presented from the public, The Young Turks want to utilize the video as a way to outrage the public and call for change. The Young Turks never directly state that they hate the police’s actions in Ferguson and they do not pick a side to back. They establish an enthymeme – they give the situations and the premises, but state no claims. They do not condemn the officers in Ferguson, but they highlight the disconnect from the public and expose the racism that likely resides within the force. Morpheus once told Neo in The Matrix, “…I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.” The Young Turks attempt a similar stance with the viewers of this video: “We can only show you the racism around the events in Ferguson and the wrongful deaths that result from it. You, viewer, have to decide how you feel about it.”

          Ultimately, I was satisfied with my choices. All three media sources provided good and bad arguments around the #BLM and the Black Lives Matter movement itself. I will admit, they were not all my original choices.

          The #TamirRice was selected at random, but when I explored Tamir Rice further, I became intrigued by the fact that he was only 12 when he was shot. I did a lot of digging on the Twitter Page to find what I did. Mostly, what I found was “hashtag clumps” and blatant hatred, with the occasional troll. I am glad that I selected this page from the “Young Tamir” photo (by NIKKOLAS) alone.

          The Salon.com articles was an alternative to my original pick, the NY Times article; however, I select the Salon.com article over the remaining articles because I felt such a shift in news coverage before this project began. I found the article very well-developed and well-spoken about the shift to the coverage of the Trump Administration, which has definitely effected all the major news networks. By selecting the Salon.com article, I felt as if I achieve something that was “in the now.” I felt as if I had a resource that was “developing now” over something that was published in 2014-2015. The article was fresh and new, and it had impact as a result of its current issue.

          The Ferguson video was provided to me after I spoke with Doctor Vrooman about receiving my own video regarding Ferguson. I found the events around Ferguson to be the “premiere attraction” of the Black Lives Matter campaign, and I was intrigued to see how it all started. I respected another Ferguson video, as the ones provided in the “Assignment” tab were taken, and I found what I was looking for.

          All three medias did their job and I got a lot out of each of them. All were great, but there were all missing something – a push for revitalization of the movement. After much research and exploring the three resources, I noticed that the Black Lives Matter movement is on the stagnant side. The movement, at one point, was the central topic of national news coverage, but the momentum seems to have been lost.

          The Persuasion and Social Movements book by Steward, Smith, and Denton talked about the Stages of Social Movements. Stage one is Genesis – the realization of a problem and the origins of a social movement. Stage two is Social Unrest – the recruitment process and the attempts to make a social issue known to the public, likely resulting in public outrage. Stage three is Enthusiastic Mobilization – the attempt to expose a social issue as massive outbreak and gain political attention and ground. Stage four is Maintenance – the period in which a social movement adapts to stay alive and keeps its claims fresh. Stage five is termination – the ceasing of the social movement, for either good or bad reasons. The Black Lives Matter movement was likely between Stages three and fours a couple of years ago, but the movement seems to have slipped back into Stage two, attempting stage three. The feared factor in stage four – public boredom and tiring to rhetorical claims – likely occurred for the Black Lives Matter movement, and now they are fighting to stay alive. The news has left them in the past, making the struggle for survival that much more difficult; however, Twitter is still the safe haven for #BLM and the movement is still strong there. They have lost ground, but they are still active.

          Also, I read a book in my Social Problems class (which made the social problems process the entire curriculum) called Social Problems, by Joel Best. Best, in the book, sets up a similar structure to the one in Persuasion and Social Movements, with some extensions and refinements. This is Best’s model:

Claimsmaking → Media Coverage → Public Reaction → Policymaking → Social Problems Work → Policy Outcomes

          In Best’s model, the Black Lives Matter movement was in the Public Reaction stage, with progress towards the Policymaking stage. This was in 2014 and 2015. Today, the movement would only be hanging by a thread in the Claimsmaking stage. Twitter serves as the domain for these claims, but none of the mainstream news is picking up the stories and there is no media attention given to the claims. It is not looking good for the Black Lives Matter movement.

          I am not saying that the movement is dead. Far from it, the #BLM is very well alive on Twitter and the movement is still active; however, it has lost much of its driving factors in the news media. Truth is, the Black Lives Matter movement is in trouble and its message is in jeopardy. The movement seems to have good intentions in its claims and its actions, but the sad truth is that the movement is running out of steam. I decided, as my conclusion to my analysis to the BLM movement, to propose a few ideas I brainstormed when thinking about the movement.

          I noticed the movement is driven on public attention, and one thing that gets it is profanity. My first proposal is to make a sign that says:

DON’T FUCKIN’ (or FUCKING) SHOOT!

The letters would also be painted red and have “dripping” effects, to symbolize blood. This would be effective for a trifecta of reasons:
1. It has a controversial message, and profanity is hard to ignore.
2. Red is the most vivid color to the eye, demanding its attention over any other color.
3. The intentional symbolism of blood would be thrilling to anyone who views the signs.

          Another idea I had is #CopBlock. The Black Lives Matter people love their hashtags (see the “clumping” examples on the Tamir Rice page), so why not use it is an act of civil disobedience. In #CopBlock, BLM protestors would block roads leading into and out of police stations. They would also be encouraged to post pictures of the blockade on Twitter with the hashtag of “#CopBlock.”

          My final idea would be a mix of both the first and second proposals, with a unique twist. Police often give the excuse that the suspect “was armed” or “was allegedly armed” after being questioned on why officers shot a suspect. My final idea takes this statement and spoofs it. This idea is the #YesWeAreArmed. In #YesWeAreArmed, BLM members and supporters would wear either a paperbag (for anonymity) and bright shirt combo or a clown suit while having water guns and toy guns duct taped and tied to their bodies. The “dressed to thrill” protestors would walk around town or march while “armed to the teeth” with obviously fake weapons and would be encouraged to take satirical pictures. This would not only serve as a light-hearted way to recruit, but could serve a way of effective mockery of the American justice system.

          This concludes my analysis of the BLM movement. It has lost much of its initial boost since 2014 and 2015, but it still has potential and the movement seems to have legitimate claims. For all I know, I am just another white guy looking at a movement for black equality, and I just may not “understand the struggle.” Despite everything, the movement seems well-intended and is facing some structural issues, which can be amended. In reality, the Black Lives Matter movement is starving for controversial ideas to send a message and needs media coverage to get off the ground again. I believe they could manage it, especially with my ideas in consideration.

          We shall see if the BLM movement makes a strong comeback or if the movement crumbles at the source, thanks to the trolls of Twitter. In the end, it is not whether a movement leaves a legacy and survives or not, but whether a movement’s claims hold truth and can bring forth change in society.

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