Book co-written by Ridgefield author explores social media’s role in ‘fight for racial justice’

RIDGEFIELD — Following the killing of George Floyd two years ago, Todd Brewster and Marc Lamont Hill had the same question.

Why did this event, these images, become a catalyst for a racial reckoning in all aspects of life?

“Occasionally there's a moment that pricks your soul and for me that moment was George Floyd’s killing,” said Lamont Hill, a journalist. “The response to it was bigger than anything else in my lifetime.”

Lamont Hill and Brewster, a journalist and Ridgefield resident, will be at the Ridgefield Library on Tuesday to discuss their book, “Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice.”

The book examines modern killings of Black Americans in a historical context and how technology influences the fallout from these events. Its leading focus is the the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020 — almost two years to the day of the library discussion.

Lamont Hill is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author of several books on media, politics and race. He is the Steve Charles Chair in Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University in Pennsylvania.

A bestselling author, Brewster has taught journalism at Temple University and Mount Holyoke College and is an award-winning documentary producer.

Lamont Hill and Brewster said the book attempts to explain why Floyd’s killing moved people in America, especially white people, in a way that hadn’t after other high profile killings of Black Americans by police.

“Why did it create a reaction that wasn’t caused by Trayvon Martin, by Ahmaud Arbery, by Michael Brown and so many others?” Brewster said. “You could say it was the pandemic, the way he was killed and the medium itself in which it was presented.”

Their talk will explore four recent events covered in the book that have mobilized national conversations about race: the story of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in 2020, the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally of white nationalists and the 2020 shooting in Kenosha, WI during a protest against police.

Not only will Lamont Hill and Brewster explore the events themselves, but also how technology and media contributed to and affected them.

The images and video of Floyd, Arbery and others “forces us to come to terms as a nation with things we’re afraid to address,” Lamont Hill said.

Brewster said the image of Floyd stood symbolically for what Black Americans have been saying figuratively for years — “get your knee off our necks.”

Floyd wasn’t the only Black American killed by police in 2020. He wasn’t even the first.

Police killed Breonna Taylor in wrongful raid in the middle of the night in late March 2020, but that event didn’t have the benefit of video evidence.

“When we don’t have a video, we don’t have the same amount of outcry,” Brewster said. “And for people the story takes on more believability when you can see it.”

In February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while out running by three white men attempting to make a citizens arrest, an 1863 law in Georgia that allowed people to capture fugitive slaves.

“Things don’t happen in a vacuum,” Brewster said, pointing to the historical element that resurfaced in Arbery’s death.

The video in Arbery’s case didn’t immediately come out, and it wasn’t until the video surfaced that people more broadly paid attention to the case and campaigned on social media for the prosecution to use it in the trial, Brewster said. The video and the social media campaign played a role in the case’s outcome.

A jury convicted the three men — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan — in February of federal hate crimes in killing Arbery.

“The book is an attempt to start a conversation and begin a justified reconsideration of the treatment and portrayal of Black Americans,” Brewster said.

On what to expect from their discussion, Lamont Hill said people will see him and Brewster “wrestle with a very complicated history, a very messy history because race and justice in this country is messy.”

“The world is hard . . .but it’s a winnable battle,” he said. “You won’t leave optimistic but you’ll leave filled with hope.”

The talk will be hosted at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Those interested can register online at the Ridgefield Library website. Ridgefield’s independent bookstore Books on the Common will have books available for purchase and signing.