On searching for meaning in flame wars


Earlier this month, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was shot dead by Baltimore police in her home after a long standoff. According to Police Chief Jim Johnson, shots were fired around 3 pm after Gaines raised a gun and threatened to kill officers if they didn’t leave her alone. In the shootout, her 5-year-old son was also hit by a bullet and taken to the hospital.

As happens with this sort of tragedy, shit got real, and fast.

#SayHerName, the hashtag which started last year after the 28-year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell, resurfaced with a vengeance. Comments about the police state, police brutality, lack of solidarity between men and women in the Black Lives Matter movement, white privilege, and the brutal consequences of racism showered social media like macabre confetti. It was easy to take one look at the headlines, glance through Twitter, and #FTP all over the place.

The day after the shooting, the Washington Post published a story titled “Korryn Gaines, cradling child and shotgun, is fatally shot by police.” The URL for the story — what comes up when you post this article on social media, like I did just before noon that day — read “Korryn Gaines is the ninth black woman shot and killed by police this year.” Despite the clickbaity headline, the Post piece seemed to provide a clear and concise look at the national outrage over not only the shooting of Gaines, but also in response to the deaths of others, all while noting that while Gaines is the ninth black woman to be killed by a cop, she is the only one who made national headlines. The rest of the article details the deaths of the other eight women.

I shared the article on Facebook, and was asked to stop spreading propaganda. I was told that the article is racist and that we are divided as a nation because of such coverage. I was shocked, so I reread the article, and I still thought it was well done. A small but manageable flame war ensued on my wall, but in the end I feel there was collective agreement on at least one point: Shit is fucked up.

The fact that a woman was shot and killed by police while holding her child is fucked up; the fact that people generalize about racist cops without reading the details of a particular story is fucked up; the fact that respectable newspapers bury good stories beneath misleading headlines is fucked up; from what I gathered from the online conversation last week, the treatment of black women within the BLM movement is fucked up. The fact that it is 2016 and people are still arguing instead of agreeing about the importance of black lives is… insufferable.

We can do better.

Free Radical is a biweekly column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Copyright 2016 Haley Hamilton. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.