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Eric Garner and Other Cases

People being killed due to a policing style is not new, but the use of social media warfare tactics to expose such incidents is new. An analysis of the killing of Amadou Diallo by New York City police officers in February 1999 concluded that that event was neither an act of racist violence nor an accident; instead, it was the result of a worst-case scenario of a dangerous and reckless style of policing [5]. In addition to the Michael Brown case discussed previously, there have been several other cases of police killing African American and other citizens. Since the death of Michael Brown, many of these cases have involved citizen journalists and have had an incredible social media response.

In August, 2011, a federal jury convicted five officers from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) on 25 counts in connection with a shooting involving police that took place on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina and the extensive cover-up of those shootings. The incident resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of four others. Four officers were convicted in connection with the shooting of multiple victims, two of whom died. The four officers and a supervisor were also convicted of helping to obstruct justice during the subsequent investigations. The evidence at trial established that officers opened fire on an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge. According to testimony, the second shooting occurred minutes later on the west side of the bridge, where officers shot at a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities. Witnesses testified that Ronald Madison was shot in the back as he ran away. Furthermore, an officer stomped and kicked Madison while wounded, but not yet dead. Madison later died at the scene [6].

On December 2, 2014, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to bring criminal charges against police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner in July of 2014. The incident was captured on video by citizen journalists. The day after the announcement, the U.S. Justice Department stated it would proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Garner’s death [7]. There were numerous protests across the United States that required very little organization and leadership, many of which arose as a result of social media warfare recruitment and indoctrination tactics, which emerged organically as supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and other organizations worked in unison to respond to the grand jury announcement. Social media was on fire and protests were again organized across the country while law enforcement monitored social media to try and keep ahead of the protesters.

About a week after the video of Garner exploded onto social media, other citizen journalists filmed a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer using a banned chokehold during a Harlem subway station arrest and NYPD officers dragging a Brooklyn grandmother from her apartment in only her underwear. Another video showed an officer in Brooklyn pulling a gun on a man pinned to the ground; the man was suspected of smoking marijuana [8].

The Russian punk art collective Pussy Riot hit social media with a video tackling police brutality in the United States. It was the group’s first English-language video, which took its title, “I Can’t Breathe,” from the last words of Eric Garner, 43, whose choking death at the hands of an officer sparked nationwide protests in the United States. The music video was released on February 18, 2015 [9].

In April 2015, a white South Carolina police officer was charged with the murder of a black male, Walter Scott, after a citizen-journalist video showed the officer shooting Scott eight times in the back as he ran away. As Scott lay on the ground, the video shows the officer putting him in handcuffs. Users of social media sites, including Twitter, had a huge reaction to the video, with people mostly commenting that without the video, no action would have been taken against the police officer [10].

In July of 2016, police were involved in the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota [11]. At the time of this writing, these cases were not completely resolved. In both cases, citizen journalists captured part of the incidents on video, and social media activists launched protests and disseminated information as quickly as possible.

The list of cases seems endless but the examples presented in this chapter show that citizen journalists, social media warfare activists, and on-the-scene witnesses are responsible for collecting evidence and disseminating it widely through social media. This trend is probably far from over and the police are striking back in any way they can to minimize the impact that social media warfare has on removing secrecy from police activity and bringing greater transparency to police activity.

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