(Originally Published on Medium)
Immediately after news broke of the horrifying murder of Cannon Hinnant, many began to propagandize his death to undermine Black Lives Matter.
**Content Warning: Anti-Black racist memes**
The recent murder of Cannon Hinnant left many Americans in shock. The tragedy of his terrifying death has been on many people’s minds. Despite that, some are struggling with how to address viral social media posts exploiting Cannon’s death in what appears to be an effort to undermine Black Lives Matter. An intriguing backlash that employs the use of racist dog-whistles originating in far-right circles under the #WhiteLivesMatter banner despite Cannon’s father declaring the shooting was not race-related.
Let me be clear, the concept of exploiting the horrifying death of a child; denying the family their privacy; a chance to mourn, to me, is abhorrent. It’s clear that Americans stand with the family in seeking justice as we do with all families who’ve lost children to every form of gun violence. Civil society demands justice be served and it’s being delivered swiftly and without debate.
The wave of social media posts attempting to equate Cannon’s death with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, however, is exploitative and dangerous. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts propagandizing his death in the same way foreign actors would have spread alarmingly fast. Divisive posts and memes, many likely to have originated overseas, are being shared by family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in an explosion of anti-Black rhetoric.
Angered at Americans speaking up against the summary execution of Black men and women by police. Enraged that Latino torture and death at the hands of police and ICE are garnering attention. Triggered as they accuse the media of bias by omission. Because the faction of “I’m not racist” white people don’t think Cannon’s name has been on the news enough times despite the killer being caught, indicted and held without bail in just days.
The basis for spreading the hateful posts in Cannon’s name isn’t because he died but because he died at the hands of a Black man. It’s not a message meant to argue about systemic issues or justice not being delivered, it’s a message saying the closet racists in your life aren’t satisfied with the type of justice handed down. Demanding more without saying what “more” is.
A rabid mob with tiki torches, perhaps? Maybe some burning crosses?
Look, there are opportunists among us that don’t care about Cannon any more than racists who seek another civil war care about unity. There are armies of hatemongers that are only concerned about stoking division; about furthering the chasm of culture wars that have become a part of everyday life in America. The goal of exploiting a white child’s death in this manner is to perpetuate fears of Black Lives Matter hunting little white children.
“Black, communist, Marxists, are coming to burn down your cities and rape your women,” racist dudes in the 1960s, and now, in 2020. They sound now just like they did then. Nothing has changed on this front. They use the same Klan tactic that slowly brings people closer to the extremist right with what some consider benign language because it has become normalized.
If you find yourself struggling with what these folks want, you’re not alone. Many Americans have been questioning precisely what we are supposed to protest or why we are supposed to demand justice. Responses vary but many will ask why Cannon didn’t have a funeral as big as George Floyd’s in an attempt to equate their deaths. Let’s be clear, George and Cannon’s murders are incomparable in every way — yet the urge to associate the two persists.
As #JusticeForCannon spreads across social media, memes are being passed around asking why there haven’t been any protests. Yet no one can expand on what we’re supposed to be protesting. After unfounded claims were made of a drug deal taking place between Cannon’s father and the shooter suggesting Cannon was shot by accident, rather than discredit the baseless claim leaps are often made by bringing up Floyd’s autopsy report as a counterpoint. Attempts to rhetorically connect the two murders are unending. Exhausting.
Many of the posts we see originate with folks who would be happy to see a lynching. But we have to face the fact that the people you consider the “harmless racists” of our society, who don’t typically espouse racist beliefs and are clearly showing them right now, are dangerous. Maybe those friends and family wouldn’t start a lynch mob. But, over the last few days, I’m convinced that they’d likely join one in a minute. and it’s alarming to me.
The willfully ignorant are the easiest to deceive with these attempts at driving the wedge deeper into the racial divide. Those who refuse to look into what Black Lives Matter really stands for are the same folks who gleefully respond to any discussion about racial justice with “what about Black on Black crime?” Yet their unwillingness to seek context or actual facts shows their lack of awareness when it comes to crimes of proximity. It’s a dumbstruck argument.
I don’t use the term “willfully ignorant” lightly. The term to me represents a growing contingent of Americans who refuse to seek out what social movements stand for. Instead, they buy into and propagate discriminatory propaganda they hear or see online and within their social circles.
If these folks took one-tenth of the time they spend being hateful to learn what Black Lives Matter is about, their views about the movement would likely change. The problem is, too many don’t care what they stand for and choose to remain hateful “I’m not racist, I have Black friends” racists.
While some of our friends may have been duped into falling for the racial propaganda, there’s only so much to be attributed to willful ignorance. Many of the people on your Facebook timelines know precisely what they’re doing. They stayed silent during all the protests and about the deaths of Black folks and Latinos at the hands of police. But as soon as a white child was murdered by a Black man, they jumped all over it. They may not see it, but it’s blatant.
They’re promoting messaging they believe in — race-based fear-mongering by exploiting the death of a white child. They are so busy demonizing Black folks that they can’t be bothered by the fact that they’re trampling on Cannon’s and his family’s names doing more harm than good. It needs to stop.
I’ve chimed in on several of these “white lives matter” posts complete with exploitative memes of Cannon. When they couldn’t answer the basic questions, and if they were willing to listen, they came to understand how it’s abusive and why Cannon is being used in that way. This scenario played out only twice as I was blocked and harassed by those who didn’t take kindly to me asking simple questions about their posts. You know, common reactions.
There are many that automatically go on the attack when we chime in. Rather than respond to our questions, they take a reactionary approach. Hurling insults and telling us that we don’t care because Cannon is white. Let’s be clear, a child was murdered and it’s fucking heartbreaking and tragic. But this is what happens when you call out racism. You will inevitably be accused of promoting hate in the comments of racist posts. It’s whatever. Call it out.
Folks like this aren’t interested in dialogue. All they want to do is spread their brand of hate by any means necessary. They are the willfully ignorant I mentioned earlier. They choose to hate and don’t care to be told otherwise. They are not interested in equality or justice or liberty for all. They want those things only for themselves and they are consistently triggered into exposing their own racism. Right now, Cannon Hinnant appears to be that trigger.
Remember, the father clearly said from day one that Cannon’s shooting had nothing to do with race. But despite his statement, angry racists are exploiting his death anyway. They don’t care about Cannon. They care only about the Black man who murdered him being subjected to their brand of justice.
If you have “friends” like this, you must call it out. People exploiting Cannon’s death to validate their anti-Black beliefs, complete with their “Black on Black crime” rebuttals, are using his death to prove a very racist point. And they are doing a fine job as only they can do. It’s dangerous. They are dangerous.
If only they had enough sense to spare the family the indignity of exploiting Cannon for senseless hate and let the family mourn in peace.
If you’d like to contribute to the family’s GoFundMe, you can do so here.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. He collaborates with many in Academia in discussing the issues mentioned here. If you’d like to learn more, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here.