Drake's Letter About Alton Sterling Makes A Point About Hashtags That Hits Especially Hard
In a two-day period, two unfortunately very similar tragedies took place in America. On Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling was shot dead by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after an "altercation between Sterling and the officers ensued" in front of the store where Sterling was selling CDs, according to a message posted on the Baton Rouge Police Facebook page. Then, on Wednesday night, Philando Castile was killed by an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota after being pulled over for a broken taillight. After both of these horrible events, the men's names began trending as Twitter hashtags, an all too common occurrence, which Drake spoke out about in a letter he wrote about Sterling. (The letter, which was posted to Drake's Instagram Wednesday evening, seems to have been written before the news about Castile.) While no one person is going to sum up every feeling about police violence or deaths that came far too soon — and I would never suggest that a celebrity is someone we should turn to in a time like this simply because they are famous — Drake's words about hashtags hit especially hard and are worth a read.
Drake wrote in part,
It’s impossible to ignore that the relationship between black and brown communities and law enforcement remains as strained as it was decades ago. No one begins their life as a hashtag. Yet the trend of being reduced to one continues.
On the one hand, Sterling and Castile's names trending on Twitter is important; talking about these senseless deaths on social media is a way of making the outrage known, and will, hopefully, someday lead to change. But on the other, it's incredibly difficult to see someone's life and death reduced to a hashtag, especially when you're feeling very pessimistic about any change actually ever occurring.
It reminds me of the "thoughts and prayers" politicians often offer on Twitter after any type of horrible event, be it a shooting or a terrorist attack. There becomes a point where it starts to feel more like an empty gesture than something actually meaningful. The "thoughts and prayers" haven't stopped the wide array of violence the world still faces, and while honoring the lives of people like Sterling and Castile is important and speaking out about change is necessary, the change actually needs to start, otherwise we're left with hashtags to stare at for a day and never see again.
As Drake continues in his message, “This is real and I’m concerned. Concerned for the safety of my family, my friends, and any human being that could fall victim to this pattern." At this point, after so many black Americans have been killed at the hands of police — and two in such a short period of time is so much to stomach — it's impossible to not feel helpless. The hashtags shouldn't go away until change occurs — we have to keep talking — but the hashtags need to go away being the change needs to happen already. Like Drake puts it, "No one begins their life as a hashtag," so it's about time they stop ending them as one.