Washington Witness: Social media a tool for justice

Jun 5, 2017 by

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Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old African-American boy, was fatally shot April 29 by police in Balch Springs, Texas. Body camera video has been used as evidence to dismiss officer Roy Oliver and charge him with first-degree murder.

Cherelle M. Dessus


Before the video was reviewed, Oliver stated that the vehicle Edwards sat in was approaching him aggressively when he fired the shots. The video contradicted this claim. It showed the car driving away from the officer at the time of the shooting.

In the past few years, many occurrences of police brutality against African-Americans have been captured by cellphone cameras and shared on Facebook and You­Tube. Social media also has become a tool for loved ones to fight for a positive image of the victims. They tell of good grades, volunteer spirit and promising athleticism — as if being human wasn’t enough.

Often these family members are countering negative portrayals of victims in the mass media. News outlets dig into victims’ pasts. Black children are called men. Criminal histories not relevant to the case are brought up. Unflattering pictures portray those targeted by police as unworthy of fair treatment.

Federal policies that target people of color contribute to the difficult relationship between police and people of color. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently directed federal prosecutors to pursue harsh sentencing for low-level drug crimes. In the past, similar policies have led to a disproportionately high African-American population in federal and state prisons.

Modern media tools are helping us get a more complete picture of what really happens in these incidents. If the victim or witnesses and the officer have contradicting recollections, how can justice be served? Will the public trust that the officer is properly trained, free from mental illness and doesn’t see dark skin color as a threat to his or her life?

Although progress has been made, accountability of police officers is still not ideal. Law enforcement tends to be above the law in the judicial system. We have frequently seen officers be acquitted of any crime, raise large GoFundMe accounts and be released temporarily on paid administrative leave.

Using social media for advocacy is effective to influence organizations, raise awareness and funds.

1 John 2:9 warns us that one who hates his brother and sister is not in the light. We must work to attain equality among all people while challenging harmful perceptions that the lives of some human beings are worth less than others.

Social media has inspired protests, rallies, national movements and political attention. Americans are demanding the U.S. criminal justice system treat all people equally.

Those who felt far removed from this issue now face the burden of watching the killing of human beings on their newsfeeds. Once we have been exposed to this tragic reality, we have the opportunity to share it with those around us.

Jordan Edwards won’t get his life back, but we can hope justice will be served. Because of media progress, Roy Oliver is facing consequences for his actions. And Edwards is being remembered as a person who lost his life, not a black body that was in the way.

Cherelle M. Dessus is legislative assistant and communications coordinator in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.

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