Experiments with Truth: Analysis

Turning a moment into a movement after the deaths of unarmed black men

In the months following the shooting death of Michael Brown, Tony Rice quit his job to lead nightly protests in Ferguson, Mo. But after a grand jury decided in November not to indict the officer who shot Brown, Rice said, “we just woke up one morning and no one was out there protesting.”

That hasn’t deterred Rice. As the nation’s attention has turned elsewhere, he and fellow activists have switched up their tactics, slowing down and digging in, trying to nurture a nascent civil rights movement by shifting to local issues and a broader critique of American society.

The deadly confrontations in Ferguson; in Cleveland, where police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a pellet gun; and in New York, where police choked and killed a man who was selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk, prompted young people to take to social media and the streets to express outrage and demand change.

The unrest generated by the deaths of Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner in Staten Island may eventually become the first scene in a stirring saga of how a moment builds into a movement. Or it could end up as a cautionary tale about how a righteous activism born of traumatic incidents fizzles, the energy of dozens of new activist groups sapped by quotidian realities and the shortened attention spans of a society that expresses its political passions in Likes and tweets.

More Follow External Link to Marc Fisher, Sandhya Somashekhar and Wesley Lowery, Washington Post