#IfTheyGunnedMeDown Sweeps Twitter to Protest Media Portrayals of African Americans
Written by LiRon Anderson-Bell on August 11, 2014
Last Saturday, unarmed 19-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, who was scheduled to leave for college on August 11, was shot and killed by police. Local officers suspected him of a grocery store theft and chased him, ultimately shooting him despite his obeying instructions to put his hands up. This took place in front of a stunned crowd of people.
Media portrayals of the shooting have shown a grainy photo of Brown from his Twitter account in which he is posing on a stairway in baggy sportswear, stone-faced, making a hand gesture. Yet, also available on his Twitter account is a clear close-up of him in an arcade, baby-faced, clean-cut, well-lit and decidedly non-threatening. The practice is not new. Major national outlets have been exposed for intentionally distorting images of Blacks to convey a more “threatening” tone (see Time magazine’s darkening of O.J. Simpson’s mug shot).
In response to this latest incident of post-mortem racial profiling, the hashtag IfTheyGunnedMeDown has taken off on the social network Twitter to protest the practice by media outlets of using negative, racist, or false-stereotype images of African Americans when portraying them in the news, especially as victims of crimes. The not-so-subtle implication is that the crime was somehow brought on or justified by the victim’s lifestyle and choices.
Dozens of Twitter users, mostly African Americans, have juxtaposed “respectable” pictures of themselves (holding a child, in military uniform, reading to youth, posed in wedding portraits, performing community service, etc.) with other photos that show them in situations mainstream media mischaracterizes as threatening or racially stereotypical (displaying hand gestures, wearing baggy street clothes, dressed “suggestively,” posing with paintball guns, party scenes). All are tagged with #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and ask which photo the media would choose to use when reporting on a crime against them.