All The Books I Can Read

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Thoughts On: “They Can’t Kill Us All” by Wesley Lowery

on July 29, 2020

“They Can’t Kill Us All”
Wesley Lowery
2017, 256p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In over a year of on-the-ground reportage, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled across the US to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

In an effort to grasp the scale of the response to Michael Brown’s death and understand the magnitude of the problem police violence represents, Lowery conducted hundreds of interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, as well as with local activists working to stop it. Lowery investigates the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs.

Offering a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, They Can’t Kill Us All demonstrates that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice. And at the end of President Obama’s tenure, it grapples with a worrying and largely unexamined aspect of his legacy: the failure to deliver tangible security and opportunity to the marginalised Americans most in need of it.

Literally the day after I finished this book, President Trump was asked by a reporter why black people continue to be killed by police. This was his response:

“So are white people. So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people,” Mr. Trump told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge at the White House. “More white people, by the way. More white people.”

Whilst what Trump says is technically true (more white people are killed by police) it ignores the bigger issue. Black people make up about 13% of the population of the United States and are 2.5x more likely to be killed by police than a white person. If you’re a black man, it’s 3.5x more likely. If you’re looking at the overall picture, they are disproportionately being killed by police, often after things like routine traffic stops or simple chases. In contrast, white people who commit even serious crimes are often taken into custody unharmed. Also, police are not required to compile comprehensive data on police killings and most of the statistics and information come from private researchers such as journalists – ones like Wesley Lowery, who with several of his Washington Post colleagues decided to build a database of every police shooting for the period of a year.

The stats in this book are somewhat mindboggling, particularly to someone from Australia where lethal force is rarely used in this way. Thats not to say we don’t have our own issues with police and terms of race – we absolutely do. There have been 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody since a royal commission in the early 90s, with zero resulting in a conviction. But in America, according to this book, on average, a black person is shot and killed by the police about every 10 days. Between 2004-14, there were more than 10,000 fatal police shootings. Of those, only 54 resulted in officers being charged and less than a handful resulted in any sort of conviction. In 2015 alone, 990 police shootings were ruled as “justified”.

The names keep coming – there are the ones that everyone knows: Philandro Castile, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and now, George Floyd. Not all of these are shootings – Garner and Floyd were not. But they were still interactions, seemingly innocuous interactions with police, that resulted in black men dying. And each time it happens, the streets erupt with protests because nothing is changing. Over and over again, shootings or force are ruled as justified, despite in the case of Eric Garner, chokeholds having been banned in New York since 1993. In the case of George Floyd, the knee to the back of the neck is not appropriate behaviour. And in the case of people like Breonna Taylor, how on earth you can have a ‘no knock search warrant’ and barge into an apartment after midnight and not expect retaliation in a country where guns and self defense has become such a core part of its make up, is beyond belief. Now in the case of George Floyd, the explosion has at least, resulted in the officers being charged, but they’re still a long way from a conviction. And history suggests that’ll be hard to achieve. In all the rest, there have been no arrests and/or rulings of that word again – “justified”.

This book starts with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The author, Wesley Lowery, was sent to cover it by his employer and he ended up part of the story when he was arrested in a McDonalds for trying to do his job. He found himself getting involved with the organisers of the protests, looking for different angles and ways in, new ways to make these stories try and resonate with people. He became a part of the movement in a way, but on the outside, reporting on it. As ‘Black Lives Matter’ gained traction, Lowery was sent from Missouri to Ohio, and from there to somewhere else, as each new death occurred. I found all the information really interesting, because there’s a lot I didn’t know about each case. As part of the media wheel, Lowery does also comment on their role in something like this – what is reported, how it is reported. There’s a huge push where, the actual shooting often makes little in the way of news (this was the case with Mike Brown) but it’s the community reaction to it that pushes it to the forefront of newspapers and news bulletins. In the case of Black Lives Matter, the actual message is often ignored in favour of covering the rioting, looting, etc that often springs out of protests borne out of rage and despair. It’s centuries of frustration and impotency, that no matter what, this keeps happening. That black people do not feel like they have equality, like they are treated the same way, like their lives do matter. So much of the narrative is also – well what was the person shot/killed doing? Were they running? Talking back to police? Did they commit a crime? If they hadn’t done this then the response wouldn’t have been that – and so on and so forth. And how is that helpful? Passing a fake $20 bill or having your brake light out, even committing a crime such as robbery or whatever, doesn’t mean that you should be shot and killed and left in the street for hours (such as Mike Brown was) or have a policeman put his knee into the back of your neck like George Floyd. Some people say it’s disrespect of the police, a lot of others say that for black people, it’s fear. They know what happens when they get pulled over and it isn’t pretty. The fight or flight response can be very strong. But in the age of social media these days, police actions can no longer be covered up. Everyone has a smart phone to record interactions and sadly, eventual deaths of people. Watching the 8 minutes of George Floyd is incredibly uncomfortable viewing. But how else can people see and know what is happening, if things like this are not shown?

This book is just a small snapshot of several deaths – it does name check others, but without going into details. It also details the fatigue of Lowery himself from spending so much time reporting on such things, on the ways that it effects communities. The author is a black man himself, who also includes snapshots of growing up, talking to his father about recognising their own blackness and his friends as well, about ‘the talk’ that all black children (particularly boys) receive from their parents, about how to conduct themselves in regards to police officers and even just in general. So that they aren’t killed. It’s a sobering thought, that young children of 10 or 12 are told ‘use sir or ma’am, push your hoodie back, pull your pants up, don’t reach for anything quickly’ etc. And if you think 10 or 12 is too young for such talk…..Tamir Rice.

This was informative and confronting and helped me grasp more of what drives the BLM movement (although I know that I can never fully understand those feelings).


Book #137 of 2020




One response to “Thoughts On: “They Can’t Kill Us All” by Wesley Lowery

  1. Thanks for this. I appreciate your summary. Those stats are shockingly appalling.

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