Are Social Justice Memes Helpful or Hurtful?

Sarah Grace Goolden

Opinions Editor

On March 13, Louisville police officers entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment using a battering ram without identifying themselves. They had been attempting to raid a home where two men were allegedly selling drugs but that home was far from Taylor’s apartment. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been sleeping and justly assumed their house was being broken into. Walker fired at the intruders. LPD responded by shooting around the room, hitting Taylor five times. Taylor had to wait 20 minutes for medical attention after Walker called 911, saying “I don’t know what’s happening. Someone kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician, died from the wounds she sustained during the unlawful police raid. 

The internet exploded in anger. This horrible incident occurred in the midst of mourning for George Floyd, who was also killed by police violence. Users on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter called for the arrest of Sergeant Jonathon Mattingly and officers Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove. This outrage has taken the format of memes, which is a popular way of distributing information on the internet.

America has a glaring problem with law enforcement violence but America also has a huge problem with keeping up with issues that aren’t necessarily in the news.

This includes posts which say things like “It’s a beautiful day to arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” or horoscopes that say “arrest Breonna Taylor’s murderer” for every astrological sign. One meme references a popular children’s book and says “My name is Junie B Jones and the B stands for Breonna Taylor’s Killers Need To Be Locked The F*** Up.”

Using this format ensures that this information continues to stay on the forefront of social media. Of course after a tragedy people are furious but this tends to wane and become non-existant in weeks. The Black Lives Matter movement tends to garner a lot of attention and traction right after an incident of police brutality and then slow right after until the next. America has a glaring problem with law enforcement violence but America also has a huge problem with keeping up with issues that aren’t necessarily in the news. As the popular saying goes, Black Lives Matter is a “movement, not a moment.” Using memes is a way to continue to keep people talking about these incidents.

However, many argue that it also lacks tact. After all, Breonna Taylor was a human being. The tragic death of yet another Black individual is being summed up in Instagram captions and 140 characters or less. This can easily be viewed as insensitive. When does something become trendy rather than helpful? Some users may be hopping on a bandwagon and don’t actually care about the movement.

One Twitter user writes “Breonna Taylor is not a meme, and neither is her death. She is a Black woman with a life and a story and a personality and loved ones. Please consider this before your next quirky post or retweet.”

I think that the concept of making someone into a meme can lessen the impact of a tragedy like this one. Memes are seen as silly and not very meaningful. However, I do think this one has a purpose.

Another Twitter user responds to criticism by saying “They’re just using her death in a meme that in no way makes fun of it because that’s what get’s people attention as the timeline goes back to normal. People are no longer paying attention to the regular cries of wanted justice of Breonna Taylor’s death so, we have to use new methods.”

I agree that the format may be insensitive but I also see how it’s so important to keep the memory of those lost to police violence alive. It’s effective and keeps people talking. I believe that Breonna Taylor deserves to be memorialized forever and also agree that the intention of these users is to do that. 



Categories: Online Exclusive Content, Opinions

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