They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement
Little, Brown & Co.
Published November 15, 2016
About They Can’t Kill Us All
Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.
In an effort to grasp the magnitude of the repose to Michael Brown’s death and understand the scale of the problem police violence represents, Lowery speaks to Brown’s family and the families of other victims other victims’ families as well as local activists. By posing the question, “What does the loss of any one life mean to the rest of the nation?” Lowery examines the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs.
Studded with moments of joy, and tragedy, They Can’t Kill Us All offers a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, showing that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice. As Lowery brings vividly to life, the protests against police killings are also about the black community’s long history on the receiving end of perceived and actual acts of injustice and discrimination. They Can’t Kill Us All grapples with a persistent if also largely unexamined aspect of the otherwise transformative presidency of Barack Obama: the failure to deliver tangible security and opportunity to those Americans most in need of both.
They Can’t Kill Us All is a galvanizing book that offers more than just behind-the-scenes coverage of the story of citizen resistance to police brutality. It will also explain where the movement came from, where it is headed and where it still has to go.
I decided to read this book after seeing the author interviewed on a late night TV show and listening to him talk briefly about the statistics of deaths in which an on-duty police officer kills someone. He spoke eloquently about how difficult it was to gather information, the lack of oversight from the government and the barriers to real accountability in these kinds of cases.
As a white, small-town woman, I often feel undereducated about racial issues in America. As a teenager, I witnessed one instance of pretty horrific anti-Semitism which involved neo-Nazi slurs and a kid exposing himself to me and my friend. But do I really understand racism in America as it exists today? No, not at all, I don’t think. So I wanted some hardcore data, and the description of this book intrigued me, so I read it.
It’s really well-written. Each story moved me. And mostly, that’s what this book is. A long list of the stories of those whose lives ended in a police shooting and those who became voices raised for justice and change as a result of those deaths.
I liked that the author took such care to try to be unbiased in his approach to each subject. He doesn’t gloss over some of the grittier details of the people he profiles. He also gives a lot of context for what’s happened in many police forces which has created distance between officers and those they’re charged with protecting and serving. I hadn’t thought about many of the things he addresses, and felt like he tries at all times to be fair, even to the point of criticizing his own past reporting and pointing out errors he made in judgment or execution of a story.
Overall, the book made me want to know more. It did have some statistics and hard data, but didn’t really focus on those things. In some ways, They Can’t Kill Us All left me with more questions than I had to begin with. I want to know more about the data collected on police shootings—one of the most shocking statistics the book mentions is that one in three of those killed in police shootings are mentally ill. This seems like a staggering number and made me wonder if there’s not something we can do differently to handle these situations.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in gaining a better sense of context for the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests in cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and Ferguson. I’m on the lookout for a book that provides additional context and more specific information on what police departments are doing to address some of these issues as well as changes made as a result of organizations mentioned in They Can’t Kill Us All since the book was written.
Explores racial issues in modern America and tells the stories of several young black Americans killed by police gunfire as well as the tales of many activists who began organizations to promote awareness and change during and in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. Some organizers are members of the LGBT community.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used briefly.
Brief story about a woman who met her wife as a result of her activism following the events in Ferguson.
The book describes a devout Christian woman whose faith motivates her to leadership in the movement.
The author observes police brutality toward peaceful protestors in Ferguson as they use force and tear gas to disperse crowds. He describes his own arrest at one point, and the arrest of other protestors. The author also describes several shooting deaths.
Some brief reference to individuals who had drug charges on their records. No description of drug use.