The refusal of the “criminal justice” system to hold any of the officers who murdered Freddie Gray last year to account has resulted in one of the most horrific tragedies imaginable, the slaughter of a young mother and the critical wounding of her five year old son by the guns of police officers in Baltimore city. In the wake of the Department of Justice’s findings that Baltimore police regularly violate “rights guaranteed by the constitution“, Baltimore police broke into the home of 23 year old Korryn Gaines last Monday in a SWAT team-style raid over Gaines’ failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket! As Gaines was live-streaming at first on Instagram and then Facebook, she heard the voices of unknown people outside her apartment room and asked her five year old son who was outside. “The police,” the five year old answered. “They’re trying to shoot us.”
As can only be the natural reaction of a mother who is being shot at by police with her child in the room, Gaines decided to pick up a shotgun and vowed to defend the lives of herself and her child. During the intense back-and-forth between Gaines and the SWAT Team, Baltimore police contacted both Facebook and Instagram and requested they shut down Gaines’ social media activity during this time so that what happened next would remain forever hidden from the world. To the everlasting shame of both Facebook and Instagram, they complied with the Baltimore police’s request. What is known for certain is that by the end of the six-hour standoff, Korryn Gaines had been shot to death by the police. As for her five year old son Kori, who at one point had tried to hide in the closet before moving to be next to his mom, the cops shot him in his left cheek and he was reportedly wounded elsewhere on his upper body.
According to recent video testimony given by the badly wounded boy,
“They saw me running and then they hurt my arm,” he says, wincing and grasping his arm.
“So they shot you on purpose?” a woman asks.
“Yes,” he answers.
“So when they saw you running, they shot at you?” the woman asks again.
“Yes,” the boy repeats.
Long before this tragedy had even occured, Gaines and all of her siblings had suffered from the the lead poisining so prevelant in Baltimore’s inadequate public housing. So even before Korryn and Kori had been shot, it was apparent that their lives had been deemed meaningless in the eyes of government authorities.
The following is an email I received from ColorOfChange.org regarding the shameful behavior exibited by Facebook and its CEO in their apparent willingness to help the Baltimore police cover up their brutality while it was happening.
Facebook deactivated Korryn Gaines’ Facebook account on police request. Then the police killed her and shot her 5-year-old son.
Demand Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stop censoring users at the request of the police.
Facebook just took away one of the most important tools we have to help hold police accountable – social media.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, at the request of police, deactivated the social media accounts of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old Black woman shot to death by Baltimore County police last Monday. She was broadcasting the standoff on Facebook that led to police shooting her 5-year-old son and killing her.1
Social media and shareable videos have been crucial not just for raising awareness about the injustices Black folks like Korryn and her son face every day from police, but in allowing us to control our own stories and narratives. Without access to social media, the police control the narrative. And when police control that narrative we’re always portrayed as people who deserved to die. This a dangerous precedent. To keep our message from getting out, police are going to keep taking our social media out.
With the introduction of Facebook live video last April, the social media giant will increasingly be put in the position of controlling one of the most powerful tools used to make police violence against Black folks visible. Just last month, the Facebook livestream of Philando Castile’s death at the hands of police sparked nationwide protests. But this latest incident makes us wonder, what if police had asked Facebook to shut down Diamond Reynolds’ Facebook as she streamed the police killing of her boyfriend, Philando Castile?
Had police done that, we might only have seen police fed news headlines about a Black man with a gun being killed by police. We never would have known the true story that Philando Castile was a licensed gun owner who was complying with police orders. And we would never have witnessed their brutality against him nor felt the grief and bravery of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter.
This is why Facebook’s decision to censor Korryn Gaines’ social media accounts at the request of the police is so dangerous for our communities. If Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook continue to comply with police requests to suspend social media broadcasts and accounts, it will rob us of our voices and our narratives and it will shield police violence from the public.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone to great lengths to declare his and his company’s support for the Movement for Black Lives. He’s made public statements about the need to address systemic racism in the US and last month, and even hung a massive sign of support outside Facebook headquarters. But so far he and Facebook have been slow to take actions in support of Black folks.
Last year, Zuckerberg dragged his feet when it came to addressing the racist bullying occurring on his site. But when Republicans complained about censorship of right-wing content on his site earlier this year, Zuckerberg immediately hosted a meeting with top-GOP operatives to reassure them of his site’s neutrality. To date, Facebook has not acted to address Black movement leaders concerns with Facebook’s censorship of Black users like Korryn Gaines.
Not only that, but Zuckerberg was all too happy to let Facebook help sponsor Trump’s coronation at the RNC. But if we pile on the pressure while this issue is making front page news, we could force Mark Zuckerberg to go beyond words to action–and make Facebook change its policy.
Until Justice is Real,
–Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Evan, Anika, Bernard, Corina, Jade and the rest of the ColorOfChange team.
1. “Facebook deactivated Korryn Gaines’ account during standoff, police say,” The Guardian, 08-03-2016