I, like so many people, was horrified by the video which showed Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, half of which George Floyd spent begging for help, for water, for his mother. Even once George Floyd had lost consciousness the officer refused to take his knee from his neck until he was dead. What was George Floyd’s crime? Paying with a counterfeit bill. He was murdered for something many of us have done unintentionally or otherwise, many times.
After witnessing the horrifying video and the protests it sparked across the world, I vowed, like many people, to educate myself. I have always said that I support Black Lives Matter over the years. With each fresh murder of a young black person I read a couple of news stories, expressed outrage but then moved on. With George Floyd’s murder it felt different. The outpouring of rage and hurt across the world didn’t dissipate. The video was seared on my brain. I wanted to have more knowledge, to understand as much as possible about Black Lives Matter, the systemic racism faced by black people across the world and how people are attempting to tackle it. I turned, as is my wont, to books. I have made several purchases to inform myself. The first book I have read is They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery.
Wesley Lowery is a journalist, who at the time the book was released worked for The Washington Post but now works for CBS news. The book centres on the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I remember the murder happening at the time and the outrage it caused. His body was left on the ground for four and a half hours. Brown has his hands up when he was shot by Darren Wilson. The murder sparked protests and riots in Ferguson and sparked the formation of Black Lives Matter. In this book, Lowery expertly takes us to the centre of that incident (as well as many others) and give us unparelled access to the formation of many movements including Black Lives Matter.
This book is an incredibly powerful and disturbing read at times. Wesley Lowery has many, many examples of black people been killed by the police. Each story is upsetting and horrifying in its own way. To the young boy, playing with a toy gun who was shot dead, to a man killed in front of his girlfriend and young child. The real power in the book comes from the way Lowery refuses to allow the emotion of such heinous acts detract from the facts. He knows the facts speak for themselves. He doesn’t need to embellish them to create a reaction. Clearly, Lowery is hurt and upset by these murders but that is never overtly used in the writing. He takes the time with each case, to tell us about the person’s family, their hopes, their dreams and their achievements. He makes sure that nobody is used as a passing reference just to make a point. Due to the sheer volume of black people killed, it can be easy to lose focus of the important facts such as who that person was and what their life was like before they were murdered. Lowery doesn’t allow that to happen.
Wesley Lowery has incredible access to the people at the centre of the movement, the families of the murdered and the police involved. You would expect this from a good journalist but the way this access is used is excellent. We get to know so many different people throughout the book but each one serves a purpose. Whether that be fresh insight from a business owner in Ferguson, a protestor, somebody who contradicts what the movement is trying to achieve. A journalist is only ever as good as their sources and Wesley Lowery has superb sources.
Another facet of the book which made it so important for me is Lowery’s honesty. He talks about the exhaustion he experienced while covering the Ferguson story. How each knew murder created in him a sense of dread at the inevitable grief that was to follow. The mistakes he made when covering a police force he felt like was getting it right only to discover the people in that city had many, many complaints about them. The accusations that he wasn’t legitimately black because he is lighter skinned. His arrest for asking questions to a police officer in Ferguson. He never shies away from these things and all of this gives the book authenticity and draws you into the crux of the matter wonderfully.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t tackle the murder of George Floyd and what has happened since. It was published in 2017. However, a quick search on Twitter shows that Wesley Lowery has continued his superb reporting to cover it. As I said previously, I needed educating. It is no longer enough to just say “Oh how terrible!” when we read about these murders and the pervasive racism faced by so many people. Each one of us should be standing up to racism in whatever shape it takes. Regardless of your skin colour it is a global problem for all to tackle. Reading this book is just one small step but knowledge is power. The book had me in tears, caused me to seriously evaluate my own life and ignited a burning anger in me that I have no intention of letting go out. No matter who you are, you need to read this book. It is as important as any book I have ever read.