AS THE rest of the world tries to make sense of what exactly America is in 2016, Wesley Lowery seeks to investigate police brutality against black people; horrors that have birthed a movement, impacted on culture, and led to civil rights marches, outrage, and despair.
As he writes in his introduction: “The story of Ferguson remains the story of America.”
Michael Brown, 18, is shot and killed in Ferguson, a city in St Louis, by a white police officer after robbing a shop on August 9, 2014.
There was a dearth of information forthcoming about the circumstance of the death, and rumours soon circulated, exacerbating local outrage.
One inflammatory rumour, which Lowery says was untrue, was that the officer in question, Darren Wilson, stood over Brown’s dying body and fired an execution shot into the dying man’s chest.
Brown’s purported final words — “hands up, don’t shoot” — were also untrue, though it became a national rallying cry.
Ferguson sparked an uprising seen worldwide on social media. The reader will remember the images of protesters facing up to lines of riot police with flames in the background.
Lowery, a journalist with the Washington Post who was on the ground, offers context to the angry tweets and explains why exactly this seemed different.
“It was the community’s enraged response that drew the eyes of the nation.”
The slaying of Trayvon Martin predates that of Brown and led to the Black Lives Matter group.
However, Lowery says people still believed in the system then — they believed George Zimmerman would face justice.
He was acquitted in July 2013 and when Brown was killed less than a month later, the situation reached melting point.
Lowery gains notoriety (fame?) when he is the first journalist to be arrested as activists take to the streets of Ferguson after the shooting of Brown — more than 150 people were taken into custody in the week-and-a-half following his death.
Lowery is at the centre of this book, divided into chapters named after the cities where shootings take place — Cleveland, North Charleston, Baltimore; Lowery is constantly told that they don’t want to be another Ferguson — over the next two years.
He plainly tells the reader about his reporting process, who he contacts when he is parachuted into a city that’s trying to process another death.
He explains mis-steps he took, like using overheated language in a tweet — one of his editors tells him: “The more emotional the story, the less emotional the reporter.”.
Lowery talks about the politics of the protest groups. There are ‘day one protesters’; there are activists like Bree Newsome and DeRay Mckesson who seem to be everywhere, before the news media, becoming social media stars; and then there is Black Lives Matte. Are they seizing the spotlight?
Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown — just some of the names we became familiar with in the past few years.
Lowery, born in 1990 and a member of the Washington Post team awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of police shootings, discusses their tragedies and the stories of their friends, families, and cities.
He says that come 2016, as the presidential election takes hold of the news agenda, the Movement for Black Lives has faded from the national conscience.
Like Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America, They Can’t Kill Us All does not have many answers, but will leave the reader questioning everything about the ‘land of the free’.