November 29, 2020

Editorial: A call to arms (if you can get a signal)

It’s a story that American cities know pretty well – a young man is shot and killed by police officers under circumstances that are less-than-clear.              In response, hundreds protest the police action and authority in general. They grow into a mob, they loot, they cause damage and they make all the news cycles.
But this isn’t an American story, at least not this time. On Aug. 6, an Englishman named Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police. He was unarmed, and the community cried foul. What should have been an isolated incident of tragic police incompetence exploded into full-blown riots throughout England. While most of the chaos has subsided, six days of continuous acts of crowd violence brought boiling temperaments to a head. British officials estimate over $200 million in damages occured thanks to the riots, and strict curfews and arrests were commonplace.
Technology became a quick target. Two youths were sentenced to four years in prison for “using Facebook to incite disorder.” The Guardian reports that neither post made by the 20 -and 22-year-old youths actually led to riot-related activity. But, following days of looting that were planned and coordinated through social networking, British authorities began cracking down.
Then, a shockingly similar story surfaced on Thursday, Aug. 11, in San Francisco (SF). When transit police in SF shot and killed a 45-year-old man, protestors quickly began organizing a rally at underground transit stations around the city. When the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials got wind, they shut down cell phone service to a number of stations. Rallies failed to organize when access to Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger was disabled by the move.
Thousands of miles apart, we are seeing similar tactics. Various organizations have already threatened litigation in the case of BART, and British officials are toying with the idea of limiting access to social networking sites through government restrictions.
Thoughts of Arab Spring, the wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Middle East come to mind. When news organizations across the globe learned of attempts in Egypt and Libya to cut off Internet access to citizens, they declared the leaders as despots.
But, when their own backyards were swarming with angry protestors, news outlets changed their tune in support of law enforcement in the name of public safety.
We are the children of a new generation. We are the first human beings to experience unlimited access to information and individuals. We must express, in whatever way we are able, that denying this access is to deny the basic progress of our people. Whether from San Francisco or Tottenham, people everywhere can unite against Orwellian measures that restrict our freedoms and our voices.

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