It’s not just Americans who are outraged about the killing of unarmed black men by police officers in the US—and the criminal justice system’s seeming inability or unwillingness to sanction such conduct. In cyberspace, at least, a shared language of protest—the hashtags #HandsUpDontShoot (in purple), #BlackLivesMatter (in yellow), and #ICantBreathe (in red)—is lighting up the planet, as you can see in the animated map above (h/t @RickBrooksWSJ).
For instance, here’s the Twitter chatter using these three hashtags on Dec. 3, just before it was announced that a grand jury in Staten Island, NY, declined to indict (paywall) white police officer Daniel Pantaleo on any charges related to his suffocating Eric Garner to death using a forbidden chokehold technique. Before:
Just after the announcement:
And as protests got underway in New York and elsewhere across the US, in the early morning of Dec. 4:
For those who don’t know, #ICantBreathe refers to Eric Garner’s last words, as Pantaleo and two other police officers forced him to the ground, face down. The 43-year-old father of six, who was overweight and asthmatic, uttered the phrase 11 times as Pantaleo crooked his arm around Garner’s neck.
It’s the latest hashtag embraced to decry the use of deadly force against unarmed black men and what many see as the devaluation of black male lives by the criminal justice system. Though it’s long since become the umbrella slogan of sorts for the movement, #BlackLivesMatter grew out of the 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was followed and then killed by George Zimmerman while returning from a walk to get Skittles and AriZona fruit juice. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder, claiming that he had been forced to shoot Martin in a fight, though Martin was unarmed.
#HandsUpDontShoot stems from the Aug. 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, by white police officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. Witnesses reported that Brown, who was unarmed, held up his hands in surrender just before white officer Darren Wilson killed him. Here’s the explosion of #BlackLivesMatter just after the Nov. 24 announcement that the grand jury declined to indict Wilson:
Young black men are 21 times more likely than their white peers to be shot dead by law enforcement, according to ProPublica, an investigative journalism non-profit. While young black men clearly bear the brunt of this phenomenon, the deaths of Garner and Martin show a far broader problem with how black men are perceived as dangerous, not just by police but also by members of the public. Garner was already twice a grandfather, and Martin was killed by a civilian. The Nov. 22 shooting death of Tamir Rice by a white rookie police officer in Cleveland doesn’t fit that category either. Rice was a black 12-year-old—a child—playing alone with a toy gun on a Cleveland playground when he was shot (here’s a video). The frequency with which black men and boys of all age groups are killed by police—six reported since late July alone—suggests that there will be many more hashtags to come.