New York Times Says Michael Brown Was 'No Angel.' Twitter: No One Is.
Using #ideservedit, users tweeted the character flaws that might be used against them if they were killed by police.
After a story in The New York Times called Michael Brown "no angel" on Monday, citing drugs, alcohol, and alleged shoplifting among the young man's "problems," scores of Twitter users reacted with tweets speculating on how their own "problems" would be portrayed by the media if were they killed by police.
The tweets, which numbered upwards of 1,700 at press time, include the hash tag #ideservedit, suggesting that the Times article, in enumerating Brown's illegal activities (and his burgeoning interest in rapping), partially blamed him for his own shooting death.
The Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, called the word choice a "regrettable mistake" and a "blunder" in a post on the newspaper's website, and the original article's author, John Eligon, agreed that the phrase was poorly chosen. Alison Mitchell, the Times' national editor, defended the story. "If you read the full profile, it's a sensitive, nuanced account of this young man," she said. "There was certainly no hint that this poor young man should have been shot."
Here is the tweet that sparked the hashtag:
A funeral for Brown was held in St. Louis on Monday, drawing thousands of mourners. Brown, 18, was unarmed when he was killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.
The flood of #ideservedit tweets is reminiscent of the popularity of an earlier hash tag, #iftheygunnedmedown, which cropped up in the days after Brown was killed. Users tweeted the hash tag alongside two photos of themselves, each illustrating the user in a different light, asking which photo media would publish if they were killed by police.
The media has been implicated alongside police in the character assassination of Brown following his shooting death. Some publications have drawn flak for biased reporting, for their photo choices, or for an emphasis on an autopsy finding of marijuana in Brown's system. For their part, Ferguson police came under scrutiny after they released surveillance footage of a robbery Brown allegedly committed, only later clarifying that the incident was unrelated to Brown's shooting.
In the vein of the #ideservedit tweets, Vox's Matt Yglesias recounted a story of an "encounter" he had with police as a teenager that was not so different from Brown's earlier this month. The same day he was caught shoplifting from K-Mart by a security guard, Yglesias and a friend were smoking cigarettes and drinking beers in a park when they were approached by an undercover cop. "But he didn't shoot us," Yglesias wrote. "He wrote us citations for drinking alcohol in a New York City park." Some #ideservedit tweets focus on this disparity between the experiences of "white kids from fancy prep schools," as Yglesias describes himself, and young black men like Brown and Trayvon Martin, who are the disproportionate victims of police homicide.
Here is a sampling of more #ideservedit tweets:
If I ever get murderd by the cops I'd like @nytimes to know that some days I'd fake being sick so I don't have to go to school #ideservedit— Jehovah's Litness (@Dandy_Lord) August 25, 2014
Lived in what @nytimes would call ‘a rough patch’, smoked weed and even, once, attempted to make a hip-hop beat. #ideservedit— Jason DK (@JasonDike) August 25, 2014
if I get killed by a racist cop, please tell the @nytimes I was rude to my teachers in high school, also I didn't like spinach #ideservedit— I'm back! (@__kuronyan) August 25, 2014
Hey @nytimes, if I'm murdered by a racist cop, know I'm no angel. I used to get involved in egg & flour fights after school. #ideservedit— Reni Eddo-Lodge (@renireni) August 25, 2014
.@nytimes I shoplifted as a teen. Got in fights. Kicked out of school. But being white, if a cop shot me, no one would say #ideservedit— Olivia A. Cole (@RantingOwl) August 25, 2014
#IDeservedIt I have an abundance of melanin.— Kale (@KaleJPhoto) August 25, 2014
Dear @nytimes I am a Ph.D. student but I am also a young black angry woman who smokes cigarettes and drinks, if I die #ideservedit— Ayanna Dozier (@Komiksgrrrl) August 25, 2014
This story has been updated with a reaction from The New York Times.Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the first name of The New York Times national editor. It is Alison.