BROOKLYN CENTER, MN – APRIL 11: Protesters chant around a chalk circle that says justice for … [+]
While one of Minnesota’s most iconic criminal cases continues to play out with a former law enforcement officer, two more police-related incidents are in the spotlight this week. Both have gone viral on social media.
The first concerns a black man, Daunte Wright, who was shot dead by a police officer during a routine traffic obstruction. In that incident on Sunday, the police officer drew a pistol instead of a taser, which resulted in Wright’s death. The tragic chain of events that sparked protests at the Brooklyn Center in Minnesota on Sunday night took place just 10 miles from where former police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of another black man, George Floyd.
Windsor, Virginia, police officer Joe Gutierrez was released on Monday after a confrontation last December. Gutierrez and his partner Daniel Crocker had Black and Latino US Army Lt. Caron Nazario stopped and the situation escalated. Body camera footage of the two police officers and Nazario’s cell phone went viral on social media last week.
In the recordings, the army officer, who was in uniform at the time, can be heard repeatedly being stopped and then when he refused to get out of his SUV, Gutierrez sprayed him with pepper spray.
The two incidents sparked Twitter on Monday, with many calling for police reform, while some also went on the platform to defend the tough job law enforcement agencies have today.
Answer to another tragedy
The hashtags #DuanteWright, #ItwasaGun, and #Manslaugher became widespread on Monday afternoon. Activists, celebrities, political experts and lawmakers were quick to voice their concerns about the tragedy. A common refrain was how a trained cop could make such a heartbreaking mistake that led to Wright’s death.
“Daunte Wright was shot dead in cold blood by a policewoman. There was no reason for her to berate him. There was no reason to murder him. No excuse. This daily horror of our black brothers and sisters being murdered by policemen has to end racist cops out, “wrote actress / activist Rosanna Arquette (@RoArquette).
Pastor and writer / activist Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) shared a similar sentiment: “Life depends on a cop knowing the difference between a gun and a taser.”
TV producer Andrew Kimmel was among those who took a very similar stance: “If you can’t distinguish between your gun and your taser, you shouldn’t be a cop.”
“Body cam footage shows the officer drew her service weapon instead of her taser. Duante Wright was killed,” wrote former RNC chairman and MSNBC analyst Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele).
Go to the video
As of last week, the video footage of Caron Nazario in Virginia has been widespread and has even resulted in the firing of Officer Gutierrez. It has been tagged with various hashtags, including #PoliceBrutality, #PoliceReformNOW, and #armyveteran.
Human rights attorney Qasim Rashid (@QasimRashid) was one of those who recapitulated the event with some footage. He had nearly 26,000 likes while being retweeted more than 13,000 times:
“Cops” was one of the hottest topics on Twitter on Monday afternoon. While much of the discussion has centered on police reform, there have been a few that actually provided law enforcement support.
“What’s so hard about law enforcement compliance? These criminals insult the violation by acting dodgy when the police are trying to get their job done (a very dangerous task). Asking you to show your hands and close your vehicle leaving is for your safety and the officer’s safety, “@goodblackdude wrote.
Social Media and Social Change
The fact that so many were so vocal speaks to the power of social media after these events. It was 30 years ago in March 1991 when Los Angeles police footage of Rodney King being beaten by amateur videographer George Holliday sparked outrage.
This footage ended up being widely shared with the mainstream media, but today it is now possible for such videos to be spread quickly via social media even as events were playing out. The question is how such videos shared on social media can lead to social change.
“The Rodney King footage took longer to air, but not too long, and when it did it was ubiquitous,” said Steve Blum of Tellus Venture Associates. “The George Floyd video has been circulating faster, but I wonder if it is.” The Rodney King video was the beginning, or at least the turning point, of a crowd-sourced video about police misconduct. As a result, it was always more shocking. “
As has already been stated with other topics, the battle lines remain firmly anchored on the social platforms. While activists may be vocal, it’s not clear if this will lead to real change. In the case of Lt. Nazario this could have led to the dismissal of a policeman who certainly appears to be wrong.
“There is little or no discussion of ideological differences on social media, police issues or anything else,” Blum admitted.
“Social media has become the megaphone reaching most households,” said technology analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.
“It raises awareness, shows people that they are not alone, helps them connect, or deaf people and makes them less sensitive,” explained Entner.
It is not so clear whether social media can actually bring about major changes.
“Social media also lowers the barriers to rude behavior. Social media alone doesn’t make any difference,” added Entner. “The people who are touched by social media can make a difference if they take the step from the virtual world to the real world.”