“Hands up, don’t shoot” is one of many iconic phrases sweeping the media after the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown nearly three months ago in Ferguson, Mo. The death of Brown and verdict of officer Darren Wilson are still under investigation. The incident sparked riots and protests centered on racial discrimination throughout the nation and created a media firestorm.
The protests are still occurring, according to CNN as of Friday, Oct. 24. “There is never a day where at least one person is not outside the Ferguson Police Department sitting or standing near an anemic tree, the only place for a bit of shade.”
Nearly three months after the shooting of Brown, public figures continue to use effective public relations strategies to gain control of the conversation and present justice and objective information of the case as it proceeds.
"When their hands are up, you don't shoot," said Rev. Al Sharpton."If you're angry, throw your arms up. If you want justice, throw your arms up."
With these statements, Sharpton stressed the importance of remaining non-violent in an attempt to calm the tension surrounding Brown’s death. As a result, college students across the nation voiced their concerns in a non-violent manner to shed light on this controversy. Sharpton used public relations tactics in his speech by stating his opinion, which he knew the African American population would respect. He spoke out about the shooting of Brown to specifically shape protestors’ actions and curb the violence resulting from this controversial case.
On Aug. 14, five days after the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” was coined, a powerful photo of dozens of students at Howard University holding their hands up in the surrender stance was posted on Instagram. The photo has over 6,500 shares, likes and retweets and received placement in USA Today, the New York Times and other top media news outlets. Aside from impressive media coverage, the photo ignited a peaceful movement among college campuses around the U.S. to capture and post similar photos to social media.
Public relations has the power to take control of a conversation and make a positive impact in events like the shooting of Brown. The nonprofit organization FCKH8.com created, “Hey White People: A Kinda Awkward Note to America” by #Ferguson Kids. The video vocalized their accounts of prejudice and received more than half a million views on YouTube. The kids in the video make the bold statement, “Racism isn’t over. But I’m over racism.” The “isms” of life are a reality in any field, especially for public relations professionals. It is important that we understand how the words of key opinion leaders can shape people’s actions and how social media can be used to start a movement.
By Kellian Reed
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.