I’m outraged. I’m exhausted from being outraged. I can’t afford not to be outraged. It’s outrageous.
By late afternoon Wednesday, my Twitter feed had asked me to share in the communal fury surrounding: A) Donald Trump’s use of a Jewish star (taken from a neo-Nazi website!) in a tweet decrying Hillary Clinton, B) Hillary Clinton getting off too easy for the e-mail thing, C) Hillary Clinton being unfairly punished for the e-mail thing, D) a film-critic colleague writing an article for Variety that dwelled on a certain movie star’s alleged plastic surgeries, E) the sexual harassment techniques of Fox News head Roger Ailes as detailed in a lawsuit filed by anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson, F) the Chilcot Report’s damning indictment of Britain’s role in the Iraq War, and G) the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., at the hands of two police officers who had him pinned to the ground before shooting him multiple times, as captured in yet another citizen video.
I was feeling pretty helpless. My viral outrage was spread way too thin. To somehow navigate this obstacle course of disaster, you have to perform triage — to decide which item to engage with emotionally and socially. Otherwise the outrage becomes merely a blanket of numbness, a foul mood extending backward into the past and forward into whatever brain-cramping thing Donald Trump says next. Isn’t it easier to just unplug and let the world go to hell without you?
But then I woke up Thursday morning to H) the live-streamed video of Philando Castile dying behind the wheel of his car after a police officer in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights shot him four times at point-blank range as Castile reached for his driver’s license. And my free-floating Internet outrage coalesced into genuine anger.
Of these nine terrible things, G) and H) are, obviously, the worst. Two black men who needlessly lost their lives at the hands of over-aggressive officers — again.
Videos that show enough of what happened to cast doubt on everything the officers say — again.
The foreboding sense that, despite the US Department of Justice quickly opening a civil rights investigation into Sterling’s death and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton calling for the same in the Castile shooting, the officers who killed these two men will suffer no consequence, as those involved in the deaths of Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many others have suffered no consequence.
With each new death, each new video, each new official story (the body-cams for both officers “fell off” in the struggle with Sterling), the outrage becomes both sharper and more fatigued, because what (we ask ourselves) can we do? Well, we could go down to Baton Rouge or out to St. Paul and march in solidarity, but we have lives and jobs and mouths to feed, so we just retweet our anger and tell ourselves it’s enough.
It’s not. Pushing that icon that pays the sorrow forward deludes us into thinking we’re making a difference, when we’re only proclaiming our moral bona fides and hoping that if enough people do the same something will change. It’s the fallacy of social media, that electrons sent spinning angrily into theoretical space let us off the hook. Do a million tweets and retweets add up to one concrete action? I’m increasingly dubious, even as I recognize that the videos — the evidence — are a critical addition to making a difference.
Until you act on your beliefs in the real world, it’s never enough. What can I do? What can you do? Answering that question means talking about actual, practical ways to begin to stop the hair-trigger, Defcon-4 response of law enforcement personnel in their dealings with African-Americans and others. It means radically rethinking police hiring and training practices on every level, and putting people in charge who have the guts to see those changes through. It means electing officials who will put those people in charge. It means working to see those officials elected.
It means, on a personal level, becoming familiar with your own local rules and laws governing police accountability and working to change them if they fall short. Early on the morning after Castile’s murder, Ijeoma Oluo, editor of the media website The Establishment, took to Twitter to issue a 14-point checklist of information everyone can find out (“5. What is the threshold for indicting police for misconduct? Example: in Seattle [where I live] you have to prove willful malice.”) and actions everyone can take (“8. Demand your city council member make police reform a priority. If they won’t, vote them out — recruit friends to do the same.”)
It means prosecuting, convicting, and imprisoning officers responsible for these deaths, in the interests of simple human justice and to send a larger message.
It means independent, external task forces to investigate and a forced end to the blue wall of silence.
Am I being naive to think all of the above could be effected? Then let’s discuss what could be done, and how, and how soon. Shutting the bad news out doesn’t make it go away; it only ensures that abuse of power continues.
I understand; it’s exhausting. Social change asks a lot of us, but most of all our attention. To process all that incoming outrage, we have to become stronger in heart and clearer of head, and we have to decide when it’s time to stop watching the slipstream and dive into it instead.
Anyway, I have to. I’m sure you’re already on it.