The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, has escalated every night since the shooting of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer. Official details on what happened are still scarce—Brown’s friend and an eyewitness to the shooting, 22-year-old Dorin Johnson, has been interviewed by MSNBC in the days since Monday’s shooting, but not by local police. The public still doesn’t know the name of the officer or how many times Brown, who was unarmed, was shot. Police say Brown assaulted the officer and tried to take the officer’s gun; witnesses on the scene, including Johnson, refute that with a detailed recollection of the events.
In these types of situations, the character of the person who was killed quickly becomes fodder for discussion, and the evidence used against them tends to come from places like Facebook, where media outlets pull photos that depict the victims of the shootings in ways that make them look like bad guys from simplistic TV shows. The intial photos of Brown, for instance, showed him flashing a sideways peace sign, which media members questioned might be gang signs. This led to the formation of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag, where people began sharing pictures side by side—the first of themselves in a way that might match a stereotype of a threatening young person, and the second of themselves dressed in a way that’s more easily relatable to viewers whose understanding of good and bad kids comes, apparently, mostly from stereotypes.