Review: They Can’t Kill Us All, Wesley Lowery

I’m in a strange, post-news-outlet state where I follow individual reporters more than I follow entire news outlets. This is possibly symptomatic of my increasing distrust of institutions in the wake of the recent election? And troubles me because of the echo chamber conservative news media insist that I (but not they) are in. I am not sure what the solution is. (Weirdly, the only outlet besides NPR’s Code Switch that I specifically follow on Twitter is the National Review, for like, ideological balance.)

So Wesley Lowery has long been one of my most trusted reporters on the Black Lives Matter movement, and I was excited for his book. They Can’t Kill Us All follows the development of the movement from Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, an event I was surprised to discover only occurred in 2013. It feels like we’ve been talking about black death for a million years, but as a national conversation, where white people were forced to stop ignoring racially biased policing,1 that’s somehow only been three years.

They Can't Kill Us All

For all three of those years (coming up on four), Wesley Lowery’s been on this beat, and if you weren’t paying attention to the development of Black Lives Matter, They Can’t Kill Us All is a terrific way to catch up on what’s been happening. Lowery writes not only about the deaths that became hashtags — Michael Brown, Charles Scott, Tamir Rice — but about the rapid, meteoric growth of activism around police shootings. His reporting at the Washington Post, including his idea for the Police Shooting Database, won the Post the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

Lowery also talks about the process and ethics of reporting on traumatic death, how you walk up to grieving family members on the worst day of their lives,  make them trust you, and get quotes out of them to convey to the country what has been lost.

A journalist’s portrait of the deceased is often used by the casual reader to decide if the tragic outcome that befell him or her could have happened to us, or, as is often implied to be the case in those killed by police officers, if this tragic fate was reserved for someone innately criminal who behaved in a way we never would.

Lowery isn’t trying to explain how this movement fits into America’s past or to predict what impact it will have on our future — it’s a book of journalism, not historical analysis. But Lowery’s a great reporter, honest about his errors and aware of the limitations of his form. If you’ve been following Black Lives Matter all along, there’s not a ton of new information in They Can’t Kill Us All, but it’s a terrific overview of how the movement developed.

  1. Ugh, I don’t know how else to qualify this. Many white people continue to close their eyes to racially biased policing. Lots of people of all races have been talking about this for years, but it just hasn’t been picked up national media in the same way that it has over the last three years. Y’all, words are hard.

Let’s Hope August Is Better: A Links Round-Up

Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana (which is where I live) on Tuesday, July 5th. Roxane Gay talks about his life and his death. Rembert Browne on people who don’t want anyone not like them to exist at all. Ijeoma Olua on the tragedy in Dallas and how we should (and shouldn’t) respond to it. Ta-Nehisi Coates on the unbreakable link between violence by police officers and violence against them.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter pulling out of the Pride parade in San Francisco due to increased police presence, some thoughts on the disconnect between the two major civil rights fights of our day.

A profile of our nation’s top ASL interpreter for hip-hop artists. My one complaint about this article is that it does not include sufficient videos of Amber Galloway Gallego being awesome.

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer spent four months as a guard in a for-profit prison in Louisiana and wrote a massive report on it. It’s basically exactly what you’d expect from our broken-ass prison system.

Suki Kim, author of Without You There Is No Us, talks about categorizing her book (a work of investigative journalism) as a memoir, and the persistent devaluing of women’s work. It made me scrutinize my own reaction to the ethics of her book, and I hope I’ll be more cognizant of that when reviewing journalism by women in the future.

Why plots are so important (also, has anyone read Emily Barton’s book, The Book of Esther? I am tentatively interested but want more information from y’all).

Your summer comic book recommendations, from Kieron Gillen, Kate Leth, and Marjorie Liu. Bid adieu to your productivity.

Queerbaiting in Captain America

The Millions released their book preview for the second half of 2016, and it is EPIC. I also discovered just yesterday that there’s a nonfiction one too.

THE SCIENCE OF BOOKS: All books everywhere with no exceptions whatsoever1 follows one of six emotional arcs. Oh how I love a taxonomy, my precious.

Rumaan Alam inquires what makes a book diverse, and wonders if his own novel — about straight white women — can be considered diverse.2

On Twitter last week I told a story about a good dog from history that doesn’t die tragically. You can read that story here.

Finally, and completely frivolously, please enjoy this wonderful review of the Blake Lively shark movie by Wesley Morris (one of my favorite cultural critics ever), which is brilliant on the subject of interchangeable celebrities.

  1. This may be hyperbole
  2. Pet peeve: A BOOK cannot be diverse. Groups can be diverse, an individual cannot. Dictionary Curmudgeon Gin Jenny urges you to get off her lawn.

The Season for Franzen Mockery Has Begun: A links round-up

Franzen’s new book is out soon, and every joke the internet makes at its expense is music to my ears, yet also I sort of wonder if Franzen and his publisher and The Atlantic and The New Republic are pranking us. They must be, right? This can’t really be real? Anyway, for now let’s just enjoy making fun of Jonathan Franzen, as the founding fathers intended.

Fantasy author NK Jemisin on disrupting the status quo. Note that the author of the interview refers to “stereotypical fantasy series like Lord of the Rings,” which is sort of insane because Lord of the Rings didn’t partake of those stereotypes, it invented them, so settle down with that.

And also, a good thing to know about about tragic queerness in NK Jemisin’s latest book, The Fifth Season, before you start reading it (featuring spoilers).

Same-sex desire in African fiction.

A female author sent out manuscript queries under a male pseudonym, and you’ll never guess what happened next! (Except, yes you will. You’re not naive.)

It turns out that writing a romance novel in which a Jew in Nazi Germany falls in love with the commandant of her concentration camp is not the world’s greatest idea. But Anne Rice is fine with it because of course she is.

Mary Engelbreit is doing a thing to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and that’s going to have to mark the official end of the days in which it was fine for me to mix her up with Lisa Frank.

Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation.

Relatedly: A thoughtful response to that David Brooks review of Between the World and Me.

When we talk about trigger warnings, I feel like we do not often enough point out that people mostly want them as a heads-up, not an excuse note. But let’s do keep that in mind.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I will be reading the latest books from Amitav Ghosh and Meredith Duran, which I think sums me up as a reader pretty thoroughly.