In what has become routine since the killing of Trayvon Martin years ago in Florida, an onslaught of hashtags, articles, news conferences and statements from celebrities have flooded the Web following the killing of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police officers. Beyoncé became the latest celebrity to join the fray, publishing an open letter on her website.
While the letter frames the importance of moving to action in the wake of these horrific tragedies by highlighting that we should be in this together, these statements are often left hanging, mistook for the action that’s needed, and, in the cacophony of social media and community outrage, ultimately becomes the peak of the cycle of tragedy, reaction, and consequence that that we get ensnared in after these killings.
On Tuesday night, Sterling was shot six times after being tackled and pinned to the ground by two officers who arrived to the scene after a call by a homeless man reporting that Sterling, who was selling CD’s outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had pointed a gun at him; and after being pulled over for a broken rear light in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Castile was shot four times in his car on Wednesday as he reached for his license and registration, as per the officer’s request. News of the killings spread as video of the shootings were posted online, sparking nationwide pain and calls for justice. Both these men were innocent, and if we are to do their innocence justice, we must respond by taking what we’ve learned and felt from the past and focus that into action that creates a better future for us.
Beyoncé’s letter followed that idea and took the celebrity response a step further, providing links to the Louisiana and Minnesota State Legislature sites, and contactingthecongress.org (which, after multiple attempts, doesn’t load), enabling those demanding action a way to contact lawmakers directly. Although Beyoncé’s celebrity allows her to reach a lot of people, it needs to be acknowledged that while the “Likes” and “Rewteets” and “Shares” these statements receive are important, they only serve as the beginning of a much larger effort for calculated, levelheaded responses to these fatal shootings.
President Obama provided an example of channeling response to action in a statement on Facebook, briefly talking about his Task Force on 21st Century Policing that, with the help of officers, community leaders, and activists, created “detailed recommendations on how to improve community policing.”
His statement, Beyoncé’s letter, and the group of other popular figures—including Serena Williams’ shock—in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice’s opening of a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge, are not only initial steps, but an example of the continued push for the change and progress this nation needs in order to confront these problems moving forward, as these investigations unfold, especially if we want to deliver proper justice these innocent victims deserve.
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