A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it
Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.
In an effort to grasp the magnitude of the response to Michael Brown's death and understand the scale of the problem police violence represents, Lowery speaks to Brown's family and the families of other victims other victims' families as well as local activists. By posing the question, "What does the loss of any one life mean to the rest of the nation?" Lowery examines the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs.
Studded with moments of joy, and tragedy, They Can't Kill Us All offers a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, showing that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice. As Lowery brings vividly to life, the protests against police killings are also about the black community's long history on the receiving end of perceived and actual acts of injustice and discrimination. They Can't Kill Us All grapples with a persistent if also largely unexamined aspect of the otherwise transformative presidency of Barack Obama: the failure to deliver tangible security and opportunity to those Americans most in need of both.
They Can't Kill Us All is a galvanizing book that offers more than just behind-the-scenes coverage of the story of citizen resistance to police brutality. It will also explain where the movement came from, where it is headed and where it still has to go.
I've been thinking about this review for some time; I have so many jumbled thoughts about the book, the author, and the subject matter that i'm finding it hard to know where to start or even what I want to say.
Is it important to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement? Absolutely yes. Is Wesley Lowery the right person to do it? Yes. And maybe no. He was intertwined with the various investigations and popular responses from the start, even getting arrested himself for little more than being black in the wrong place at the wrong time (in Ferguson). He seems to have connections with both the major players and random public, comments from these groups give this book real life and emotion. Yet his own anger shows through, in his original newspaper writings and tweets as well as in this book. The fact that he acknowledges this goes some way to making it less of an issue. Maybe partiality isn't a problem in this kind of book. Maybe it's impossible not to be: can a young black man in America not have an opinion? Especially as a reporter who has been focusing on the deaths of other (mainly) young black men.
Perhaps it only occurred to me because the overwhelming feeling I got from the book was that the whole subject is subsumed under a wealth of misinformation, rumour, lies, sensationalism, and avoidance. False reporting, insider sources who lie or get it wrong, rumour mill ideas of what happened and when, twitter 'news', set opinions, exaggeration or underestimation according to preconceived ideas/professional position/or aims. There is so little clarity to be had because it is drowned in the sea of 'he said/she said/they said'. Waves of outrage are undermined or determined by questions about the 'quality' of the victim and discussions of whether he 'deserved' it because of how he'd lived before. The police and system of law aim to protect their own, which despite being a fundamental part of the service, should not include those who are a danger to those they are supposed to protect and serve. Nobody seems to know what the hell is going on or what needs to be done to stop it. Until these deaths became big news, there wasn't even a national database of police shootings in the States. So much miscommunication and misunderstanding. The more you read, the more depressing and confusing it all becomes.
All this comes across in the book because explanation is driven by emotion, by personal accounts and the fearful, tear stained faces of those who have lost friends and loved ones. It's evaluative in parts, but the impact is in the stories of individuals interviewed by Lowery. That makes the book an important resource, but not an authority. He offers no solutions and no ways to move forward, but it is necessary that he, and others, keep asking the questions.
In his Acknowledgments, Wesley Lowery calls the victims of racial violence "Rorschach tests in a divided nation’s debate of race and justice." That seems a particularly appropriate choice of metaphor in light of the criticisms from some portion of our populace about the movements that have sprung up to protest police violence against black citizens. What do you see when you are shown an unarmed black man splayed and bloody on a city street, in a park, in a car, shot by police fire?
With all the incidents of racial violence in the past two three years now—can it really be so many for so long?—it is hard to keep straight when the outrage began and when it began to blossom into fury. Lowery began his reporting on police shootings with Ferguson in 2014. He was writing for the Washington Post. He first saw Instagram photos uploaded by his friend Brittany Noble with CBS affiliate KMOV in St. Louis, who had a list of local officer-involved shootings in her reporting history. "I just felt different. Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t the typical police shooting scene," Noble told Lowery.
When did “police shooting scene” become paired with “typical”? Lowery explains that it was during Ferguson that we realized there was no national data for police shootings. It needed to be collected, and was, later, by hand, by scouring newspaper reports from around the country. It turns out that the largest subcategory of people killed by police are armed white men, many mentally ill or explicitly suicidal. We don’t see the numbers here, but one wonders how many unarmed white men, as opposed to unarmed black men, become victims. There is no doubt that a close reading of the numbers would help us to understand the difficulties on both sides of the policing debate.
So Lowery begins with nearly three months in Ferguson: "There is this overwhelming feeling that they can shoot us, they can beat us—we can even have this stuff on video and the police officer still gets off" [Patricia Bynes]—and is drawn into a national crisis, ping-ponging around the country with each new shooting. The timeline and the incidents are laid out in order, along with the crescendo of voices in protest.
He notes the moment “black lives matter” goes viral for the first time, from a Facebook post by Alicia Garza, a 31-year-old activist in Oakland, reposted by fellow activist Patrisse Cullors. Black Lives Matter became “an ideological and political intervention” then, "in the face of deadly oppression." The name later became the name of an organization. "Its tenets have matured and expanded over time and not all of its adherents subscribe to them in exactly the same manner…" The division in what became the movement has been seen before between groups wishing to bring racial inequality to the nation’s attention. While some may not agree that "Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise," one has to admit it looks an awful lot like that.
Lowery introduces us to many young activists and spokespeople around the country who are anxious to be part of the dialog and the solution. That is the hopeful part of his narrative. Well-educated, articulate men and women around the country have poured their organizing and speaking skills into highlighting these issues for those who do not face profiling or harassment or intimidation in their everyday lives. Many may end up someday in political roles, if they can gain traction: "No one is going to teach you. Power is never given, it’s taken," one young aspirant was told by a prominent official. So be it, then.
The discussion of political leadership led directly to an eye-widening moment for me: “…the percentage of black registered voters in the South more than doubled—skyrocketing from 31% to 73%—between 1965 and 2005” (a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965). Not coincidentally, this is just the time the conservative Koch brothers began to systematically fund groups who would move far-right politicians into down-ballot races, beginning the process of changing the face of southern electoral politics so that new districts could be drawn without contention and restrictions on voting rights could be enacted.
One night in early 2016 I happened to catch the Colbert Report when DeRay Mckesson was guest speaker. That night he was trying to explain the Black Lives Matter to Stephen Colbert, who came off looking foolish and even a little resistant against the smooth, cool rationality of Mckesson. I learn from Lowery that Mckesson has become a huge figure in racial identity politics since 2015 when he involved himself with the Black Lives Matter movement. (I have added the clip on my blog for those who haven’t seen it.)
I understand also that Mckesson has been involved in discussions President Obama convened with his advisors and other activists Lowery mentions, e.g., Brittany Packnett, (Campaign Zero), and Mica Grimm, (Black Lives Matter). It is thrilling for me to hear these voices, though I wish there were less contention among the groups about motives and means. The ends are pretty much the same, it would seem. The means…I guess we will have to see the response of the police and government, but not everyone wants the voices of activists to fail in their pursuits.
This book is a short but vital description of many of the key incidents that led to the movement of #BlackLivesMatter becoming a national and internationally recognised theme. It's a non-fiction, personal account of Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post, who covered many of the police shootings post-Ferguson in America, particularly focused on the ones where protests were sparked.
For me, this was a great read becuase it introduced and solidified the topic well. It's largely focused on racially-motivated police shootings, and it's also focused on the key figures who were speaking out against these crimes, and the people who were actively working to stop this from happening time and time again. It's a book that discussed a lot of the key videos, shooters and situations that fuelled the movement (still on-going now) and it recounts many interviews and quotes from people on the ground and other reporters at these incidents.
What I personally liked was that it felt easy to get into even though the topic itself is a pretty hard one to confront and deal with. I felt that the way Lowery addressed each individual shooting, and all the individual interviewees and activists was very nicely done. It does feel a little bit 'paint-by-numbers' as it is does lead you through all the key events and a lot of these were presumably covered by many bews sites at the time, but as an English reader who doesn't always (or often at all) hear about the issues sparking the protests (e.g. shooting by police) I found it both eye-opening and a solid introduction to the topic.
A strong and powerful little book, with a lot of potential to make people interested in finding out more. I have no doubt that this is a book that would inspire and motivate people to get involved, and I found it a dynamic book. 4*s
The bitter taste of injustice is intoxicating on the tongue of a traumatized people. (p. 59)
Disclaimer: I am a white, female, middle-class, middle-aged, overly educated librarian in a wealthy, predominantly-white area. I am many degrees removed from the topic at hand, following it only from a distance across social media. I definitely read this book with a bias which shows in my review.
I've come to understand that I enjoy investigative journalism more than stories from on-the-ground reporters. It seems that because the first has time to research a topic and engage in reflection before crafting their treatises, their products explore a topic with intent to share knowledge whereas the latter puts himself in the story he's following because he becomes part of it via reporting it as it unfolds. It's not that one is better than the other, it's only that I prefer the former to the latter.
This is a case of on-the-ground reporting, a collection of moments and experiences gathered over the course of two+ years chasing stories focused on police or white vigilantes killing unarmed black men and women. Lowery starts with his own disclaimer that the media has caused many problems in this area, both for activists and for law enforcement, due to inaccurate reporting (deadlines make you hasty) and sensationalism (gotta sell papers) and he admits to being complicit in the circus. I had hoped that, from there, he would try to analyze his findings and break things down in a fashion that reported a larger story.
What I got was a hodge-podge of experiences that tied in with his reports, a lot of repetition, and some shaky writing. That's not to say it's bad but if you've followed any of #blacklivesmatter on social media, even at the most shallow level, not much of the information herein is fresh and it's not presented in a way that sheds any new light on what's happening. Neither is this an exploration of today's young, black activists, though it certainly went in that direction several times. Nor is it an in-depth look at the root causes behind unarmed black people being killed without consequence for the perpetrators nor does it study the history of black rights being denied throughout generations. It was bits and bobs of all this stuff combined with the author's feelings about people, places, and things thrown together and choppily blended then tossed onto paper.
I felt it was irresponsible for Lowery to focus so hard on the black men whose deaths or assaults made national news while ignoring the women and anyone who did not feature on headlines across the country. He throws out Sandra Bland's name a handful of times, never telling her story. He briefly mentions the teen girl in Texas who was attacked by an officer at a pool party and says nothing about the high school girl who was thrown to the ground by an officer in her South Carolina classroom. Those made national news, too. Dude, Huffington Post keeps a running tally of black women and girls who have been assaulted and/or killed by police officers. It's not hard to find that information so why are black women missing from this reporter's narrative? Is is because he didn't write those reports, directly? This is an especially puzzling question in light of the very prominent, very loud female activists in the #BLM movement, specifically the ones he interviewed, befriended, or had just followed on Twitter. Hell, female activists started #blacklivesmatter, as Lowery points out several times. They're not keeping quiet about black women being killed by police so why is he? And what about the stories that didn't make national news? Lowery claims that the Washington Post, his employer at the time, started keeping statistics and recorded almost 400 fatal shootings by police officers during the first five months of 2015 and between January and August of 2014, twenty-four unarmed black people had been shot and killed by the police. Who were they? What were their circumstances? Did the communities react? Did activists speak for them? Why this narrow lens on just unarmed black men who made national news?
But let's back up. I said that I found the hodge-podge of his personal experiences and the repetition off-putting. Lowery takes that into account in his introduction, saying that he created this story from his two+ years of notes on the subject and from reading the articles he'd submitted at the time. He allows that the result may not be a tidy flow of information but I want to know why that should be the case? So some of the notes are old and may not make sense anymore. So some of the information from certain events may be missing. That doesn't mean you can't do a little research, some tidying up, editing, and rearranging to form a cohesive story instead of jumping around from one shooting to the next and then back again, introducing main players and then reintroducing them again later on. That's messy and it detracted from the overarching story.
I'd also mentioned the shoddy writing. From poor sentence structure to lazy description - On August 13, 2014, Templeton sat in an empty bedroom with a loaded gun in one hand, tears streaming beneath the cold barrel pressed to her forehead. (No, there are no tears pouring down from underneath the gun barrel on her forehead as she sits on the floor) - to lack of clarity - On the day of Michael Brown's funeral, the feature on his life on the front page of the New York Times included the declaration that Brown was "no angel."
Tanya Brown could have told you herself that her son, Brandon, was "no angel." It was one of the first things she said to me when I first spoke with her in July 2015. (Thanks to Michael and Tanya having the same last name, it sounds like Tanya is talking about her son, Michael, even though Michael's mother is Lezley McSpadden. This leaves the reader to wonder who in hell Brandon Brown is, then. Don't worry, it's cleared up in another paragraph. Tanya Brown's non-angel son is Brandon Jones. Could those sentences not have been better constructed to be more concise?) - it's hard reading and not because of the subject matter. Ok, yes, also because of the subject matter but that should have been the only reason reading this was difficult. There shouldn't have been a language barrier.
I wonder if one of the prominent female activists would be able to tell this story better or perhaps the mothers of the murdered. They did well at the DNC last year, I'll bet they could put together a book that gives more insight to unarmed black people being assaulted, shot, and killed at an alarming rate in this country.
This is an important addition to the discussion of racial inequity that is partially happening, partially because it seems it's being ignored by a large, white segment of the population, throughout the country. However, this piece is too sensational to feel unbiased and it's too poorly written to give a professional perspective. I did learn a lot about young, black activists so that's pretty cool, but all in all, I didn't get what I'd wanted from this reporter's-eye-view on a critical national issue. I'm going to keep looking for books that do this subject justice.
... One day, one month, one year from now, after you leave, it's still going to be fucked up in Ferguson...
as a print reporter for the washington postWesley Lowery has written an extensively researched book about shooting (after shooting, after shooting...) of black men by the police during 2014 & 2015. but it is not only about death- it is also an accounting of the beginnings of a movement & an informed look at those who are working to prevent police violence. Wesley Lowery interviews the families of victims, city officials, local activists & citizen reporters. somehow he reports on the murders shootings in even fashion. i don't know how he does it given that he spends his days cold-calling the families of those killed, watches viral videos of the killings, & works at reporting on a profession that is not accessible or transparent in the least.
there is a bit of a throwaway moment in the book where wes is catching up & visiting with a friend from high school & as they get in the car to drive somewhere both throw their wallets on the dash. they do so knowing it will go easier for them should they get pulled over b/c god forbid (as black men) they should reach into their pockets for their wallets.
This book should be listed on essential reading lists. Lowery discusses the killing of Michael Brown and other unarmed African-Americans who died at the hands of police. Lowery is a journalist who covered the situation in Ferguson and Baltimore and through a journalistic lens, he examines the need for the Black Lives Matter movement. It's a powerful and important book.
Journalists try not to become part of the stories they cover. That choice was taken from Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery when police arrested him and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly as they worked on their stories at the McDonald’s in Ferguson where protests had broken out after the killing of Michael Brown. Since then, Lowery has been on the black death beat, from Michael Brown to Tamir Rice to Freddie Gray and on and on. They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement is the story of his experiences as a reporter covering this tragic story and of the activists who are trying to bend the arc of history toward justice.
Lowery gives us a look inside the organizing in response to the grim history of deaths at the hands of police. He sat in meetings, interviewed activists and got to know them and this is the most interesting part of his book. For many of us, the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, John Crawford, and Philandro Castile are familiar. His focus is less on their killings and more on the civic response, the activist uprising that has energized and shifted the focus of civil rights activism, and the generational changing of the guard.
With passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the focus of black activism was on consolidating the gains of the Civil Rights movement, electing more black people to office, promoting education and career advancement. It was not about revolution, but about working to get ahead within the system. Throughout that time, unarmed black men were killed by police with impunity, but their deaths were seldom noted. Video changed that.
The first incident was the assault on Rodney King. It would have been just one more case of a man beaten while “resisting arrest” were it not for the video taken by an onlooker. It is video and social media that has given life to this new movement. Now the killing of unarmed men is not an inside story in a local paper, but tweeted and posted to a national audience, hashtagged and memorialized. Videos provide documentation of police culpability and dishonest, most notably in the killing of Walter Scott when the video captured the police officer planting evidence and refuted the false statements provided by the officers on the scene.
Lowery includes the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmermann since that murder was the impetus for Black Lives Matter. He also includes the murders of the nine worshippers at AME Church in Charleston. Like many people, he sees all of these deaths as part of a whole, the violent devaluation of black lives in a system of white supremacy.
This is a valuable contribution to understanding the new movement for racial justice. We are introduced to the leaders of this new movement and learn how they were mobilized and inspired to activism and leadership. He points out that critics of the Ferguson protests who repeatedly focus on the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” chant as inaccurate are missing the point. The exact facts of Michael Brown’s killing are less important than the critical fact that he was just one more, the tipping point, not the only point. Critics ignore the context of a city that financed its government by harassing black people and fining them for anything and everything including “manner of walking.” Critics ignore the scathing Dept. of Justice report that laid bare a systemic system of racist oppression carried out by Ferguson police for years.
This is a book for activists and those who are interested and supportive of the racial justice movement to safeguard black lives. However, if those who really need to read would actually crack the cover and read it, they would be surprised and perhaps persuaded. Lowery writes like the reporter he is, tamping down his outrage, instead providing text and context for the the movement in a matter of fact tone that in the end, could be more persuasive than outrage. If only people would read it.
They Can’t Kill Us All will be released on November 15th. I was provided an e-galley by NetGalley.
I read this to learn more about Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, and in that sense the book fulfilled its purpose, though I’m not sure I gleaned anything I couldn’t have just by paying more attention to contemporary news coverage. Still, it’s interesting to get a young black reporter’s perspective on the recent spate of police shootings – “few things move as slowly, under such a unique cloak of darkness, as an investigation into an officer-involved shooting.”
They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery is an audible book I got from the library. I live in a few counties away from St. Louis and the reputation of the police dept racist actions have always been known to everyone in all the surrounding counties. All the major family activities are in St. Louis such as museums, zoos, and such so everyone, white or black are careful. But if you are of color or different: wear dreadlocks, different clothes, ... you are a mark. So when the Ferguson riots happened, no one was surprised at uproar. No one was surprised that the cop was not convicted. This book tells of this reporter's story and of others as he comes to Ferguson, is arrested after only two days while sitting in McDonalds with other journalist as they are taking notes and getting coffee, blocks away from the action. He goes on to describe what he sees, what it was like, what his fellow journalist encounter, the mood, the history, and so much more. A very good, well thought out book. He worked at the Washington Post at the time. He was young, black and a target just for being in Ferguson.
Picked up this book to understand more about the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests held in the U.S.
It's an incredibly insightful read for me. A lot of times I found myself unable to read more than a chapter a day because of how heavy the topic is and the number of police killings is just horrifying. If reading about it is getting me down, I can't imagine what those who were directly affected by the killings are going through.
Here is one of the paragraphs from this book I highlighted;
... the protest chants were never meant to assert the innocence of every slain black man and woman. The protests were an assertion of their humanity and a demand for a system of policing and justice that was transparent, equitable, and fair.
GENERAL: - written by the Washington Post reporter who covered and was arrested in Ferguson - extremely topical and relevant and compelling - Everyone in America has to read this.
LIKES: - the idea of citizen reporters, especially with the rise of social media, is so compelling. - even though it was written with a lot of pathos and is really rhetorically charged, it doesn't feel like a rant. It's impressive how he struck a balance between urgency and raving. - it was so well written, I didn't want to put it down. - the college student protesters are so inspiring.
DISLIKES: - being a reporter sounds like a terrible job. It seems so physically and emotionally draining.
Wow! This enthralling account of the deaths of so many (virtually exclusively unarmed) Black men and women at the hands of police and the development of the Movement for Black Lives that has sprung from it is a major contribution to our ability to contextualize and then actualize a constructive and effective response to a major societal challenge. And Wesley Lowery is a gifted narrative writer whose prose is as evocative as it is lyrically beautiful, so much so that there are moments when I had to put this book down to reflect on something that I'd just read, the contrast of the situation and its description being too much to process in the moment. A harrowing, often trying story to be told that is regularly exquisite in the telling....
This is a book first and foremost about the tragic deaths-by-police experienced in the African-American community that have occurred in this country over the past couple of years. Accordingly, the subject matter is challenging. In fact, I would say that the author's gifts keep it palatable for the vast majority of the book, but after the stories of Ferguson and then Cleveland and then Baltimore and then Charleston the topic tires and depresses in the sense of wearing on one's humanity (as it did on the author's).
By the time Mr. Lowery arrives at the concluding story about the protests at the University of Missouri, the reader is almost numb (and, objectively, I think that this is the least compelling part of the book). If I have a criticism to offer, it's that this final story is not as effective, both because the point has been so well established by then and because its significance seems to be of a lesser order than that which precedes it. This being said, in my view, this takes the book down only from a A+ to an A ... and it's unquestionably a must-read for anyone who's seriously interested in what this latest iteration of a civil rights movement is about, especially the historical context from which it's been birthed.
This is really a story about the victims and those affected by their deaths, from their family and friends to their neighbors who've been so traumatized by these tragedies that they've felt compelled to act. As numerous protesters note, the reality that it could've been them - that, just because of their Blackness, their being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong police officers could've proven fatal - forces their empathy to play out as a passionate commitment to an active response ... and not just to a short-term protest but to a concerted effort over the long term to address the systemic issues that've given rise to these tragedies and their context. To put a finer point on it, Ferguson isn't just about Michael Brown, even though his death sparked the upheaval that followed. It's also - and perhaps more - about the way that the local police and the town government have preyed on their African-American citizens for years and about how young Mr. Brown's death was the last straw. So too with Tamir Rice's death in Cleveland and Freddie Gray's in Baltimore and Eric Garner's in New York and....
From this continuing tragedy came a movement - known popularly by its Twitter hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter - that sought to address this age-old problem in modern ways, including via the proactive and masterful use of social media to create the awareness that led to so many of these stories going viral (read = national in profile and impact). There is an appreciable amount of the history of BLM here, but less than that of the individual incidents themselves that called it into existence. Some of its founders and sustainers are met and profiled nicely, but the most meaningful inner workings of the group are either not reported or not reported extensively or Mr. Lowery was not privy to them. So, we meet the people perhaps more than the movement itself, which is still an important contribution and service.
And this is also the story of a young African-American journalist come of age due to the hardest of story series and how he struggles with the necessary objectivity of his profession while being painfully aware that, but for the grace of God, any of these tragedies could befall him and/or his family members, too. To borrow a formulation first used to express an affiliative connection to a golfer, as African-Americans, we are all Michael Brown (or Tamir Rice or the Charleston Nine or Eric Garner or Jordan Davis or Trayvon Martin or...).
But I would be remiss if I didn't share a tidbit or two of the compellingly crafted narrative in this book, which is such a page-turner that I read it in slightly more than 24 hours. It was hard to pick up ... but once engaged, even more difficult to put down. It speaks the truth to power. The only question is whether we will hear and head its message....
In this spirit, as he ruminates about his responsibilities as a professional while struggling not to lose touch with the (in)humanity of these tragedies, reflecting on the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Mr. Lowery writes:
"A journalist's portrait of the deceased is often used by the casual reader to decide if the tragic outcome that befell him or her could have happened to us, or, as is often implied to be the case in those killed by police officers, if this tragic fate was reserved for someone innately criminal who behaved in a way we never would. ...
We fall into the fallacy of believing we can litigate the complicated story before us into a black-and-white binary of good guys and bad guys. There are no isolated incidents, yet the media's focus on the victim and the officer inadvertently erases the context of the nation's history as it relates to race, policing, and training for law enforcement. And by focusing on the character of the victim, we inadvertently take the focus off the powerful and instead train our eyes and judgment on the powerless. ...
In those early days, the national media litigated Mike Brown, rather than litigating the shooting. We placed the burden of proof on the dead teenager, not the officer who had shot and killed him. ...
A shortsighted framing, divorced from historical context, led us to litigate and relitigate each specific detail of the shooting without fully grasping the groundswell of pain and frustration fuming from the pores of the people of Ferguson - which also left us blindsided by what was to come."
This is hard but necessary reading, made far more accessible by the author's precocious communicative gifts. I strongly urge everyone to read it to become better informed about an undercurrent in our society that will continue to assert itself painfully if we continue largely to ignore it. And especially if you're inclined to juxtapose All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter the moment you hear Black Lives Matter, this will certainly help you to understand why doing so is so disrespectful and demeaning to those trying to get you to understand BLM in its proper context. These tragedies will continue if we don't change our behavior (and thus the structure of our society), so this is not a particularly partisan or political situation, and it's certainly not binary: BLM is not an either-or opportunity but a both-and one ... and in recognizing this, we may begin to (re)build a more just society that better reflects the reality of all three of these descriptors....
I read this because I wanted to find out more about the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, what I read was an uncritical glowing paean to people involved in the movement and others regardless of their actions and/or credibility.
I did enjoy reading the parts about how some of the women got started in the movement and about the young black female newspaper reporter working to make her mark. Those character studies were interesting, and I wish the book had focused more on those people. I also wish the book took a more dispassionate non-partisan approach to the entire topic; instead, Lowery's emotions and personal bias bled through quite a few times.
My main issue is that the book glorifies people’s emotions (often about a situation that they knew nothing to very little about) as if those emotions created some sort of reality independent of the facts of a case. It glorifies the burning of Ferguson after the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson; Lowery writes lavishly of the Ferguson burning with “festive street lights city officials had hung, spelling out SEASONS GREETINGS”. Lowery never denounces any of the widespread destruction, and even justifies other violence because of “a deep, abiding inequality” perceived by the residents of Ferguson. I find this blindness towards other sides of the issue--like for example, the poor business owners who lost their livelihoods and the residents affected by the violence--to be off-putting.
Lowery also makes misleading statements about the Michael Brown case. He writes that Brown got in a “scuffle” with Wilson, when in reality, Brown punched Wilson and tried to take his gun (“scuffle” vastly understates the situation). He writes that whether Brown was surrendering or going to attack Wilson is “murky”. No, it’s not. The DOJ report said explicitly that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown (not that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue charges, but that the shooting was justified). He mentions Brown’s body being left “on the hot August ground for four and a half hours”, but never says why or indicates that the body was covered within a few minutes. The why includes an over two hour delay due to actual and threats of violence from the crowd. The remainder of the delay was to get detectives from another jurisdiction on site to investigate the shooting, which I’m sure most people would say is a good thing (independent investigation!)
Lowery also complains that people looked at the specifics of Brown’s shooting, “divorced from historical context”. Of course we do! In a civilized society, we don’t determine if a shooting is justified by “historical context” but by the specifics of that situation. To do otherwise would be to do horrible injustice to parties involved in the shooting.
He writes lovingly of people like Deray Mckesson, Shaun King (!) and Marilyn Mosby, despite their numerous public failings. Again, a more balanced approach to these folks would have garnered my respect, but as written, I can’t take it seriously. He gets facts of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice cases wrong. He writes positively of Assata Shakur without mentioning that she was convicted of murdering a police officer. He writes positively of a kid who gets so mad at a simple comment that he storms out of a college class in a rage, and he never explains why this inability to control anger (over a simple comment!) is a good or desirable trait. Most would argue it is not. Again, a more measured approach with critical thinking applied would have improved the book immensely.
I actually have more notes and bookmarks but I’ll stop here. In summary, I wanted to learn more about the origins of BLM but all this book gave me was a obviously biased, non-critical, highly partisan look at the people involved. Because of the factual errors and manipulative language, I cannot take the rest of the book seriously and know what is an accurate representation and what is not.
P.S. One more thing: I should have seen the issues mentioned above because early on in the book, after describing his fairly benign, although most likely unjustified arrest, Lowery then claims he was “roughed up” by the police. Um…
I'm not sure who the target audience for this book is. It's certainly not Black millennials who were and have been on the ground, so to speak, for each event narrated in this book. It came across as an encyclopedia of events starting in Ferguson and a who's who of various people tangentially involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Save it unless you're unfamiliar with the racially charged events since 2014.
What I wanted: a look at why did #BlackLivesMatter emerge when it did. Was a movement such as this always in our future? What does BLM stand for? What does it seek to do? Basically a book about the movement as a whole in our history.
What I got: a journalist recounting cases that dealt with racial inequality.
In the end, you can either read this book or pay attention to the news.
#blacklivesmatter - 'It's a modern iteration of a struggle that has existed for hundreds of years.'
When it comes to race and issues related to racial inequality, it's evident that America is a divided nation. Because of this, we've been blessed with some of the best pieces of writing around the subject of social justice. Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow is widely considered as a tour de force and the best explanation of the US's mass incarceration of young black men. Yaa Gyasi's phenomenal Homegoing confronts American involvement in the enslavement of African people, while the National Book Award winning Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates examines the black experience in America. They Can't Kill us All by Wesley Lowery is Between the World and Me's exclamation point. Somewhat of an addendum to Coate's masterpiece, TCKUA delves into the 'new era in America's racial justice movement', examining why we are on the brink of a new civil rights movement and more so, how this social phenomenon transpired chronologically. It is also the best explanation as to why the black lives matter movement is valid, offering a brilliant counter punch to the commonly mistaken 'all lives matter' argument and comparison.
Because it is written through the lens of an experienced journalist, the book exudes a refreshing perspective that is written objectively. Though it is evident that Lowery is passionate about the subject matter, he maintains an amazing sense of neutrality throughout the book, offering the reader a fact based account of the staggering number of unarmed black men killed by police officers across the nation (including the public reactions that ensued). From Ferguson to Baltimore to Dallas, Lowery documents the very beginnings of the #blacklivesmatter movement by interviewing a plethora of its key players. For anyone curious about the movement's foundation, intent, goals, or validity, Lowery provides the proper context to answer all of these queries via his exhaustive investigative reporting.
Though there are a number of issues explored throughout They Can't Kill Us All (making it incredibly difficult to put down), the book's true prowess comes through via the passion and transformation of its many key activists. As fierce as Lowery's prose is, it's the vernacular, experience and reasoning of the book's characters that truly steal the show making it not only an informative read, but a deeply empathic and emotional one at that. As countless black men and women die from the bullets of police officers (who even if they are charged with an offence, rarely become accountable to their crimes), Lowery points out the fact that not only do many African-Americans feel like they've been denied the American dream, they also face a vastly different challenge..
"The underlying theme of this set of warnings "passed down from black parents to their children is one of self-awareness: the people you encounter, especially the police, are likely willing to break your body, if only because subconsciously they view you as less than, but also as a threat."
Along with the very real examples of unarmed blacks being gunned down, this in itself is why those in the movement have to vocalize and profess the reality as to why black lives matter:
"The protest chants were never meant to assert the innocence of every slain black man or woman. The protests were an assertion of their humanity and a demand for a system of policing and justice that was transparent, equitable, and fair.. For too long, many of the activists declared, black bodies had been extinguished by police officers without public accountability or explanation. For all the stories of police abuse, brutality, and impunity that had been shared at black dinner tables, barbershops, and bar stools for generations these basic facts were ignored or unacknowledged by the nation at large."
Though the book evokes a sense of anger and frustration in the face of injustice (reminiscent of those during the civil rights movement of the 60's), it provides a sense of hope and empowerment as the protestors dance and sing over Kendrick Lamar's 'we gon be alright'. It provides a deep sense of connection, commonality, and community through the dialect of its many interviews and soliloquies. It highlights why our ability to gather and protest should be protected and more so, why we even do it at all..
"The power of protest is found in the communal space it creates-that by connecting marginalized people, the protests create a combined force that is powerful where singular voices would be weak."
In a period where America's future feels somewhat uncertain and uneasy at best, the timing of this book is sublime as it serves as somewhat of a blueprint for those who are remotely curious about social change. Like many of the phenomenal pieces of writing about social change written in the last couple of years, I flew through this and took notes as I read due to the sheer volume of pertinent information related to Lowery's exceptional investigative journalism skills. Like all great pieces of historical nonfiction, you'll want to recommend this book to everyone, not only because of how important it is but more so, because of the way it made you feel. As a huge fan of Lowery and this juggernaut of a book, I do hope that the right people stumble across its message.
My attention was drawn to this book by the excellent review in The Nation, "Origins of a Movement" by Nathalie Baptiste. Well worth reading, I provide a link to it online below in lieu of a personal review. But I do want to make a couple of comments about what this book is NOT, as well as what it is, because of some of the comments I've seen in the few middling-to-negative reviews I've seen here on Goodreads and a few of the more exuberant positive ones. This book does not provide a deeply researched historical analysis that connects the Black Lives Matter movement to the centuries-old and ongoing struggle for racial justice. Nor does it describe this movement with an eye towards charting a course forward or providing insights into movement building, although it does provide recent historical information that might prove useful in doing that. What this book DOES is place this recent history in the context of the decades-old and ongoing problem of racially biased policing and racialized police violence, provide a narrative based in on-the-ground reporting of the flowering of this new stage in the movement, and provide excellent profiles of some of this new generation movement leaders and detail the events and emotions that helped spur them into action and inspired them to become organizers. These things it does quite well. Because of the book's origin in Lowery's reporting notes over the months covering these events, which he reworked for publication, it is repetitious at times, but that is the only major flaw in my opinion. Plus, since the prose style is that employed in newspaper and magazine reporting, it is a quick read. I highly recommend this as an introduction to the fight against police abuse for anyone wishing to get a better understanding of Black Lives Matter who may not have made a point of closely following these developments as they were unfolding and as a gripping recounting of this recent history and some of the players in it that will be enjoyed by those who have been paying attention as well. That said, here's the link to the The Nation review:
Yet another police shooting in a working-class black neighbourhood, even the breaking of a young black body left on public display, didn’t catch the gaze of the national media. It was the community’s enraged response- broken windows and shattered storefronts - that drew the eyes of a nation.
One of the most harrowing aspects of reading this book is that if you swap out some names and dates, this could be about what is currently going on in the United States following the murder of George Floyd. Lowery documents the events that took place after the murder of Michael Brown and, subsequently, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray, interviewing hundreds of individuals who were in the midst of the protests and riots. He meets various activists, detailing their stories and experiences, and looking at the moment that impelled them to act.
There was one issue that I had with this book and it was the way that Lowery didn't touch on Black trans individuals, especially since they've been at the core of the BLM movement. It just felt like a giant oversight to me - the closest reference to the LGBTQ+ involvement was when he mentioned Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi and described them as queer activists. Violence towards Black trans people, particularly women, was just surprising to me and I think it should have been included.
Other than that, They Can't Kill Us All is a great book to introduce yourself to the BLM movement, and I'd highly recommend picking up When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse after reading it to get more insight into the movement.
Some books I begin reading knowing that they will be difficult emotionally for me to get through. That’s how I felt about They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement. I bought it because of the hype and put it off for months. I forced myself to read it and yes it was an extremely emotional read. But it was an extremely important and relevant read for the current environment in the United States.
They Cant Kill Us All is the story of the systematic injustice taking place across the country written by Lowery a reporter on the ground after the deaths of Michael Brown and many others killed by police. He tells the story of the protest, the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement and the key players that took the reins organizing protest. Lowery includes his own experiences growing up and how being a Black man in America shaped his view of life and of the current state of injustice
This is definitely a book I recommend. It's important to look at all of the issues that come into play when a police shooting takes place: how it affects the community, the family, the level of trust between the community and officers, the media portrayals. All of those things matter. Lowery decisions to highlight the Mike Brown case and Ferguson sheds a bright light on an issue that is prevalent in the US. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
First, an acknowledgment: I know Wes from our time at Ohio University together and have a huge amount of respect for him personally. His achievements as guy in his mid twenties is shocking. But this isn't a glowing review just because of that.
Wes feels like the perfect person to tell this story. He's been entwined in this movement professionally and personally since Ferguson and can share insights as a black man growing up in America.
He connects the dots from heartbreaking death to death, protest to protest, all across the country by telling personal stories of victims and protest organizers.
This is a book we'll look back on as a passionate, fair, and honest look at the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as a nation's response to the need for racial reconciliation in the 21st century.
Wes tells the story from a humble perspective, acknowledging his own missteps and his challenge in balancing a change he believes needs to happen without being unfairly biased.
There were times I had goosebumps as he told this story. I appreciate Wes and this book. No matter where you stand on the issue of policing in America, "They Can't Kill Us All" is worth reading so that the names of victims aren't just hashtags, but lives that do truly matter.
I have always had an interest in African-American writing (my MA thesis was on African-American Women's Writing and the theme of Magical Realism) and on African-American history and politics, so when I was offered an ARC of this book I immediately took it.
Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery spent over a year on the ground in Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Maryland reporting on police violence in America and the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray. This book contains interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, which were heartbreaking to read, as well as interviews with local activists who are currently working to stop the violence. it touches on the transformative effect the Presidency of Obama has had on America as well as the effect white supremacy has had on the lives of black people living in America. It is definitely an emotionally-driven read with personal accounts that prove difficult to take in at times, but it is certainly an important topic that deserves discussion.
I would like to do some more research into this topic and into the work of Wesley Lowery and maybe come back to reviewing this book more fully.
Really good overview of the last couple of years. It was nice getting to know more info/bios behind some of the more well-known activists. If someone is looking for a good overview of how the BLM came to be and summaries of the high-profile killings/protests, this is a good one.
Listened to this book because I saw Wes Lowery on a Frontline and I thought he was really insightful. Young Wes is obviously an incredibly impressive guy. However, this book lacks the depth and research that could have made this book a major contribution to our understanding of race and policing. It seems like something he may have cobbled together in a few months on the side of his reporting. It is mostly his accounts of being at the protests and meeting with young activists.
There are still good reasons to check out this book. For one, he gives you a really good sense of why this new wave of activism is occurring and what its strengths and faults are. Lowery clearly sympathizes with the BLM type activists, but he keeps his distance enough to retain objectivity. He notes that in many ways BLM is a response to the let-down of the Obama administration and the discrediting of working within the system to achieve change. This level of police violence, housing segregation, poverty, etc. still goes on even with a black president. The system seems unresponsive, callous (think Mike Brown's body left on the sidewalk for 4 hours), and unable to convict police officers of anything. Huge parts of white America and the media seem judgmental about black poverty, blaming lifestyle choices, fixating on rioting, or just telling blacks "Hey why don't you just follow the law?" Out of this has come a loose movement devoted to changing police practices and demanding accountability of governments and police departments. This movement has largely rejected working within political parties or the government, instead seeking change through protest, demonstration, moral appeal, and the use of new media.
While this movement deserves credit for putting the spotlight on this ongoing tragedy, Lowery does point out some of its faults. One is, of course, that not working within parties or running for office often leads to someone else controlling those institutions, someone who may not share your concerns. Trump is possibly the greatest refutation of left wing anti-politics that one can imagine, and I suspect his presidency will cancel out virtually every good thing BLM has done. If BLM can't distinguish between him and Hilary, it won't make a difference in the big picture.
Another problem that Lowery hints at is that one of the movement's central martyrs, Mike Brown, was on the way from committing a crime when his confrontation with Darren Wilson occurs, and by most of the evidence did not have his hands up when he was shot and probably attacked the officer. This brings me to 2 points that each side of this issue have to acknowledge before it will go anywhere. 1. The BLM side has to acknowledge that what happens in the instant of the interaction between the police officer and the citizen matters. To an extent, all the context and history go out the window, and there's just an interaction fraught with tension and danger. Moreover, BLM needs to acknowledge that when they portray someone like Mike Brown as a martyr and refuse to acknowledge the complex circumstances surrounding his death, the things he probably could have done or not done to avoid that interaction or keep it peaceful, they discredit themselves and their entire movement in the eyes of most white Americans. This is not just because of racial insensitivity among white Americans (although that is out there in droves). It does matter who BLM chooses to make into their martyrs, and if they pick someone like Mike Brown and stick to that story, white America will never join this movement. In sum, BLM needs to do some more complex thinking about public relations given that most white Americans (and the power structures that be) aren't going to suddenly start "getting woke" (consider that about as likely as a religious conversion) and seeing the world just like BLM does (and I know this in itself is a form of oppression, but come on: do you want to change things or not?)
2. What White Americans need to acknowledge is the black experience with the police, like the black experience in general, is fundamentally different from the white experience. The rules that govern a black citizen-police interaction just seem to be harsher almost everywhere, the likelihood of a police officer using or threatening force so much higher. Drug laws and police practices have also made it far more likely that a black citizen will interact with police, raising the possibilities both of arrest and escalation. If BLM could admit that Michael Brown and others weren't innocent on the day of their deaths, then whites should be able to admit that this men and women didn't deserve to die for what they did and said in the presence of police. What's odd about this situation is that of all the black citizens killed by police in the past years, Brown, the movement's central symbol, probably did the most to jeopardize his own life. Almost any of the other major figures would make a more credible figurehead, one more sympathetic to white Americans (btw, I think that most white Americans do think the killing of people like Tamir Rice or Philando Castile are inexcusable tragedies for which someone must be held accountable). If many white Americans remain inflexibly devoted to the principle that the police never do wrong, or that it's just a few bad apples rather than a flawed an biased system, they will remain vincibly ignorant of black experiences and of why these protests keep breaking out.
If you want to sum it up, white Americans need to see the big picture and BLM needs to see the small picture for this issue to go anywhere.
What could have made this book better would have been a deeper historical presentation of race, police, housing, etc. in all of these urban areas. It could have been a mix of a journalistic travelogue and a comparative study of these issues and the different social justice movements in 3 or 4 major American cities. That would have required, of course, an advanced level of graduate research. Wes, if you're out there, let's team up!
I'd recommend this book for anyone who feels like they didn't get the full story of these events in the last few years. Lowery offers useful details of how these events unfolded, and getting the full story usually helps shoot down the narratives of both sides of the issue. For example, he points out that when the protests started to escalate in Ferguson soon after Brown's death, no one yet knew that Brown had robbed a convenience store just before the confrontation with Wilson. This missing piece of info probably contributed to the rage that ultimately led to the destruction of property. In that sense, this is a strong book. If you have followed this issue closely for the last few years, you could probably pass on this book and wait for something more thorough and well-researched to come along.
A good read that puts recent events in context. Wesley Lowery may not be a household name to you but he is the reporter at the Washington Post that unexpectedly became the story during the Ferguson protests, along with Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly. There had been accusations that the national media didn't care until "their own" had been caught up (plus fellow reporters and media people reported this as well) in the net. This arrest along with the other events of Ferguson would take Lowery through a journey looking at the recent deaths of black people due to police brutality, gun violence, etc.
The book looks at the events in five different areas: Ferguson, Cleveland, North Charleston, Baltimore, and Charleston. The author looks at the on the ground movements, the activists involved, the police officers and officials, some of his fellow reporters and other media colleagues, etc. If you followed the events (particularly on say Twitter) a lot of this is probably very familiar to you. But it helps with the benefit of time and hindsight and Lowery putting all of it together in one text.
That's the book. Much of the material was familiar to me as I had read up on the events as they happened on social media, but it was good to have this within a larger contextual frame.
That said, the book is not without its flaws. I couldn't help but wonder if Lowery inserted himself too much into the narrative (admittedly he was brought into this not of his own will and quite suddenly via the arrest and as a black man this is something that would understandably concern him). Your mileage may vary on this. The transparency was helpful to know that he did know some people on the ground or had connections via the media, etc. I also am never a fan of books written by journalists and this isn't much of an exception. I'm not sure if it's because I already had some familiarity with the material, but as usual I wasn't a fan of the writing style.
I forgot at what point I began following the author on Twitter but I miss his presence and liked his reporting (both in print and via social media). He talks a bit about this in the book and quite frankly it's completely understandable why he'd step back a bit (aside from the work this book probably took). Still, for me this is one of those situations where someone doesn't quite cross mediums for me. I continue to follow him on Twitter though and would recommend you do the same even if he isn't as active anymore.
In the end, the people who *really* should read this book won't. They really should set aside their ridiculous objection(s)to Lowery or don't want to read about black deaths or the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. It's not a thick book and arguably one could just read the section(s) that pertain to/interest them the most. Really, even if you think he's a reverse racist or he somehow faked his own arrest (I believe that was an accusation at some point), it's worth reading this book and seeing if maybe your original perceptions were wrong. You can always borrow it from the library and I'd recommend that's how you find it.
A worthy recap of some of the more recent and prominent shootings of young Black men. Starting with Michael Brown and his covering of this murder as a reporter for The Washington Post. He was one of the reporters arrested for not moving fast enough out of the McDonald's in Ferguson, which many reporters were using as an impromptu newsroom.
Although any one who follows the news regularly will have some familiarity with these fatal police encounters, what Wesley adds for the readers is some background on the protesters who have become media darlings. A few names you will recognize, but there are some who went off to college and became campus leaders, some moved into more prominent community positions. It's like Wesley wanted to acknowledge these young activists for their part in amplifying the issue of police misconduct.
Some of these activists came to be leaders in the most organic way, by just becoming involved in nightly protests. It gave some restless folks an avenue of expression, and some rode their involvement all the way to a white house sit-down with President Obama. Wesley goes out of his way to remove himself from any extra meaningful importance, often making self-depreciative remarks. I think it's a good effort and could serve as an inspiration to budding activists. 3.5 stars
I was sent this book from the publisher –Penguin Random House– via Netgalley in return for an honest review. It’s release date was 26th of January 2017.
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter for the Washington Post, and he found himself the lead reporter in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th 2014 covering the killing of unarmed black youth Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson and therefore unknowingly witnessing the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter social movement. Lowery sets out this book in four separate but intertwining sections, weaving back and forth from Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio (his home state) where he mainly focuses on the horrendous case of Tamir Rice being shot by police, and Baltimore, Maryland. The events and the corresponding uproar and protests are covered in great detail by Lowery, in a remarkably fair manner. This does allow the reader to feel the shock and the sadness, and the hope for the future of the movement’s achievements, but it doesn’t let in any really of the author’s personal reactions to the events relayed. It does read, unsurprisingly, like a sometimes dry newspaper article. It is a shame because I expected to be emotionally moved by this book and instead was more intellectually moved – which is not a criticism. I feel like this is an extremely important and timely book to be reading in 2017.
I was completely naïve to the Black Live Matters movement. I assumed the first protests erupted during the summer of 2016, which was the period of the UK coverage and when the UK showed solidarity by coordinating the London protests.
This is an insightful book which pieces together the movement from its beginning to 2016; identifies the key players/leaders and touches briefly on some of policies being implemented to reform the police and attempts to provide stats on the lives lost at the hands of the police.
The UK does not have an issue regarding the shooting of black men by police (with the exception of Mark Duggan); it does however have a history of police brutality towards black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and there are lessons which can be learnt.
I can't help but feel relieved that I live in a country where guns are not easily accessible; but anxiety for the lives on the other side of the pond.