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.
Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement is an eye-witness account of the many police shootings of black Americans from 2014-2016. As a journalist for the Washington Post, Lowery spent most of 2015 traveling from state to state, following the devastating trail of black bodies.
This book is a political commentary on the state of America today. It systematically discusses many of the police shootings of African Americans, stating facts, but also often interviewing protestors who took to the streets to shout that enough was enough. It mainly focuses on Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Tamir Rice, and the waves that these deaths made in the discussion of police brutality and ‘post-racial’ America. Individual protestors are highlighted, including Bree Newsome (the woman that took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina) – who is even more awesome than I’d realised. There’s also quite a lot of discussion of the creation of Black Lives Matter, although personally I would have liked to see a bit more about the three creators, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. He focuses more on the way that the movement took off and united communities across the States.
I think that Lowery is in a prime position to talk about these particular events. Obviously, he was an eye-witness to many of the protests through his journalism. But he is also an African-American man, and occasionally he inserts brief comments about how he too has been affected by the shootings, and how his experiences mirror those of millions of young black men in America:
At some point in high school, my best friends and i all had a running joke about “the talk,” which most of them had been given by a father or mother or some other relative. 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 they subconsciously view you not only as less than, but also as a threat.
Lowery is also very good at discussing his own journalism, and the flaws within it. For example, a portion of the book is spent analysing his positive portrayal of the relationship between police and Fresno. This was a particularly interesting section for me, because he discusses his desperate search to find a story that can act as a counterpoint to that of Ferguson. He also talks about the ways in which stories can be manipulated by the media, and the role that social media plays in the proliferation of news today.
My one problem with the book is that it doesn’t comment on Sandra Bland. I understand that Lowery mainly focuses on the targeting of African American men, but her death was another key moment in understanding race relations in 2015. It also allowed Lowery to gloss over any potential discussion of gendered attacks, which I think would have greatly added to the book’s generally measured approach. This also stops him from discussing the role of sexuality or gender identity, which is a shame.
Overall, They Can’t Kill Us All is a vital book about the fallacy of believing to be in a post-racial society, and what people are doing to make sure no one in modern America can believe in these delusions anymore.
NB: Black MC for Diversity Bingo 2017