INGRID DOULTON | Professor of Women’s Issues | [email protected]
Since late last year, Middle-America has revisited an uncomfortable phase of citizen unrest reminiscent of the early 1990’s.
Video footage and viral campaigns that highlight police brutality has had a pressure-cooker effect on many disadvantaged American communities as well as their supporters.
These tensions appeared to climax in November 24, after the police officer who shot the unarmed eighteen year-old, Michael Brown, was not indicted by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri.
This reminds us of other people that have suffered at the hands of American authorities. Whether they are police, community leaders or “neighbourhood watch” – the vast majority of high profile people who brutalize unarmed black children never seem to be held responsible or accountable for their actions.
Emmett Till (1955), Rodney King (1991), Trayvon Martin (2012)
These are some of the more iconic names of young Americans that have become victims of police brutality across the decades. In each circumstance, people around the nation rise up in what can only be considered ‘Civil Disorder’ – protests that verge on riots, or just riots in general.
The famous video below shows one of few victims that while being seriously assaulted, didn’t actually die at the hands of the police, Rodney King – asking for an end to the LA Riots in 1992.
To avoid this kind of unrest, America needs to take a leaf out of Australia’s book when it comes to silencing a nation-wide protest that highlights the behavior of overzealous cops.
Australian police and media have proven that: protests CAN be contained and policemen CAN eventually return to work without any repercussions. It all comes down to how the story is presented.
Example A: Palm Island, North Queensland
Australian Aboriginal Palm Island resident, Mulrunji (known as Cameron Doomadgee while alive), aged 36, died in November 2004 in a police cell on Palm Island, one hour after being picked up for allegedly causing an alcohol-related public nuisance. The family of the deceased were informed by the Coroner that the death was the result of “an intra-abdominal haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein”
While the people of Palm Island did respond aggressively to the death of a community member, it lasted no longer than a day or two. Unlike Ferguson, where unrest has been prevalent since the shooting in August.
The brief riots on Palm Island saw the local courthouse, police station and police barracks burn to the ground. While at the same time, 18 local police and their families were forced to withdraw and barricade themselves in the hospital until later in the day when approximately 80 police from Townsville and Cairns were flown to Palm to restore order.
Order was restored and people were prosecuted. The policemen at the centre of the ordeal were relocated and received compensation for the distress and defamation they experienced.
In my studies of both human behaviour and the English language, I find the power of words in the wake of a race-orientated tragedy can serve as a fulcrum between public order and mayhem.
It seems the reporting on the issue by both police and media can skewer public opinion enough that it seems no one outside the immediate community seems to care.
This is where America can improve. The following list shows the key words that can either create unrest or restore order when reporting on a death at the hands of police.
Please note that ‘Hashtags’ are to be avoided at all times as they have proven to be quite powerful if used appropriately by disadvantaged communities.
Key words that will INCITE civil disorder:
Unarmed, Teenager, Victim, Good Kid, Community, Gentle Giant, Family, Tragedy, Out Of Character, Friendly, Police Brutality, White Cop, From Behind, Peaceful, Dreams, Aspirations, Football, Basketball, Baseball, Academic, Future, Young, Proud, Potential, Slaying, Child-Killer
Key words that will AVOID civil disorder:
Alcohol, Indigenous, Drunk
Professor Ingrid Doulton earned her PhD in women’s issues from the University of Sydney in 2012. She completed her undergraduate studies at La Trobe University in regional Victoria soon after completing high school. Immediately after, she began her Masters at The University of Canberra with her dissertation in women’s sport. She is chairwomen of the Women’s Literacy Foundation and a brand ambassador for Rexona. Prof. Doulton lives in Sydney’s upper north shore with her dog, Peter.