The Ferguson Revolution Is Happening in the Tweets and via Hacker Group Anonymous

With the bubbling up of grassroots activism, are we on the verge of an American Spring?

Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 13. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. (Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters) 

Aug 14, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She writes on a variety of subjects for Clutch, Ebony, Jet, and others.

It’s been nearly a week since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, and mourners are no closer to the truth. The St. Louis County police have released a preliminary autopsy report confirming what everyone already knew: The teen died from multiple gunshot wounds. But where he was hit, how many times, and the name of the officer who pulled the trigger still remain a mystery. Since Brown’s death last Saturday, protesters have flooded the streets of the St. Louis suburb demanding answers and justice, but unless you’re on Twitter, you may be missing out on much of what is happening.

“I saw reports of heavy police presence, angry residents, and just general chaos on Twitter,” Ashley, a St. Louis–based community activist, told TakePart (she declined to share her last name). After hearing of Brown’s slaying on Saturday, Ashley headed to Ferguson to see what was going on. “I couldn't believe this horrible thing happened in my city, and there was basically no real information.”

“There was just such a stark difference between what my Twitter timeline looked like and the silence of the local media.”

“They don’t have a real feel for the pulse of the city and the people,” Ashley says of the media’s initial lackadaisical response to reporting on Ferguson. “It was another black man killed in a city where that happens every day.”

While Twitter has been the main conduit for information during the Ferguson protests, the mainstream media has been slow to report on the complex issues that led to the unrest, choosing instead to focus on scattered incidents of looting and a QuickTrip gas station that was set on fire the day after Brown was killed.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said his department would likely scale back police presence during the evening’s demonstrations. Yet protesters and journalists were met with heavily armed SWAT officers, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Two reporters were arrested during the night’s events. This dissonance between the community and the police motivates protesters such as Ashley—who documented herself being tear gassed—to take to the streets despite the risks.

For those participating in the protests, however, Brown wasn’t just another dead black man; he was the manifestation of years of racial profiling and segregation coming to a head.

The St. Louis metro area is the ninth-most-segregated region in the nation, and while Ferguson is two-thirds black, its mayor, police chief, police force, and city council members are overwhelmingly white. This has heightened tensions in the wake of Brown’s murder. “It’s a textbook example of how not to handle the situation,” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French told The Washington Post. “This situation has brought out whatever rifts were between that minority community and the Ferguson government.”

Citizen journalists such as Ashley, French, rappers Tef Poe and Haiku, Twitter user @Nettaaaaaaaa, and Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal have been reporting from the front lines of the demonstrations since the unrest began. Through their Twitter, Vine, and Instagram feeds, people around the world have witnessed the St. Louis County Police Department’s response to the mostly peaceful protests, further underscoring the issue that sparked the outrage: police brutality.

It’s an issue that’s even gotten hacker group Anonymous on board. While the group rarely wades into racially charged issues such as the slaying of an unarmed black man, a member who goes by the name TheAnonMessage says the hacktivist group couldn’t turn a blind eye this time. “This is the last straw,” tweeted TheAnonMessage. “We are sick of seeing police brutality and the misconduct of authorities.”

On Sunday, the group released a YouTube video warning the Ferguson police against harming protesters, promising that Anonymous would “take every web based asset of your departments and governments off line.” When law enforcement officials lobbed tear gas at demonstrators on Sunday night, the hacktivist group made good on its threat and disabled the city’s email. TheAnonMessage (whose account has been suspended by Twitter) says the group wants to stop police brutality because “law enforcement has neither helped its citizens nor helped us.”

The group has declared Aug. 14 a National Day of Rage, with afternoon protests planned in Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. “We call upon the citizens of the United States to rise up and stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson. They are currently fighting for their right to peacefully protest,” says a statement tweeted by the group. “It is our time to get off our chairs, turn off the TV, and make ourselves heard. Let us all stand in solidarity with Mike Brown, the people of Ferguson, and every single person that was brutalized, and brutally murdered by so-called authorities.”

Other Twitter users are spreading the word—using the hashtag #NMOS14—about peaceful “National Moment of Silence” gatherings to be held on the afternoon of Aug. 14 in dozens of U.S. cities.

On Thursday morning Anonymous also sent out the name of the officer who allegedly shot Brown. Local police have denied that Anonymous’ information is correct.

“From day one, my main question was ‘What is the officer’s name?’ ” Ashley says of her frustration that Ferguson police have yet to identify the officer who allegedly shot Brown. “I was just beyond bothered by the thought that this man’s neighbors could sleep in their beds and not know the man next door was a murderer. It infuriates me.”

She isn’t alone in her frustration. Brown’s family, the NAACP, and protesters have all called for the release of the officer’s name, but Ferguson police claim his identity is being withheld out of concern for his safety—although the same could have been said for Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, and he’s still alive.

When the officer’s name is released, Ashley says she still won’t be satisfied. In addition to wanting all law enforcement officers to be outfitted with video recording devices, she also hopes police departments around the country will establish an independent review committee that will investigate officer-involved shootings.

Ashley says she’ll continue to hit the streets, and she’ll be sending out information on Twitter “until I feel like there is nothing more to be gained.” When that happens, she’ll “move to mobilizing people a different way.”