If Allowed to Live: The Power of Citizen Journalism

2016 was a tough year to be black in America

Not that being black in America has ever been notably easy. We have come a long way but we also have a very long way to go. We are knocked down, and we knock ourselves down, and sometimes it feels like we’re underwater with no sense of up or down, but our hope is unwavering and there is one thing that we know for sure:

Our voices are louder than ever, demanding to be heard through the screaming injustice, and they will not be silenced.


That isn’t all. Not even close. But one thing that they all have in common, other than the color of their skin, is the fact that their deaths – their murders – were caught on camera and shared with the world whether the media liked it or not. That’s the power of citizen journalism. The power is in our hands and we are holding those in the spotlight accountable for their actions. Whether we receive justice or not, we are making sure that the world knows what is happening and that we aren’t going to stop talking about it.

What exactly is “Citizen Journalism?”

According to Dictionary.com:

You no longer need a degree to be a journalist. Of course, journalists like any other professionals, get better the more practice and education they have in their field. An education is still important and helpful, but it’s not always necessary. Some stories only require a video and a witness or two, and others are more complicated and require caution and skill. For those more delicate stories, the footage and information gathered by citizen journalists can be used to supplement and build the story of a practiced journalist. Professional journalism and citizen journalism often go hand in hand.

If you’re still confused, here’s a video that explains it better than I can:

How Citizen Journalism Comes Into Play with Black Lives Matter

Like I said above, the deaths of all of those men were videotaped and shared with the world. In the case of Philando Castile, who was killed just outside of Saint Paul, Minnesota, his death was streamed on Facebook Live by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds (while his 4-year-old daughter sat in the backseat).

Clearly Reynolds didn’t pull out her phone with the intent of becoming a journalist, but in essence, that is what she became. Because far too many of these stories are going untold, and justice is going unserved. Reynolds did what she could to capture as much proof about the situation as she could, and thanks to her, the guilty officer is being charged with three felonies. In this specific case, and many more like it, the proof was more than enough to close the case. But in so many other cases the proof is there but it might be blurry, or it might be tampered with, and sometimes it is simply ignored or rationalized, and that is why citizen journalism is so important; because the more videos and vantage points and perspectives we can get of an event, the more likely it is that justice will be served.

Keep Recording

It is legal in 38 of the 50 states to record police, and in the other twelve (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) it is only legal when all parties have given permission, but according to Florida courts, “parties” doesn’t include on-duty police (or anyone in a public space). These laws are confusing and inconsistent, and many police have been recorded lying that it is illegal to film them. In most cases, this is not true and in my opinion, when a cop is uncomfortable being filmed, it sends the message that they are doing something that they don’t want people to know about.


Citizen Journalism allows us to speak without fear of being misquoted. We are living in an era where people create “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts.” Our stories are being doctored and deleted and denied, but we keep finding new ways to be heard. Through citizen journalism, we are the witness, the journalist, the editor, and the publisher, and silencing us is unconstitutional.

Black Lives Matter

In the case of Black Lives Matter, Citizen Journalism is essential because so many people are too afraid to take a stance. Nobody wants to be offensive, people are content in their ignorance, people don’t understand what the movement means. There is so much confusion, ignorance, and emotion surrounding this topic, but in this issue, like any else, journalist have to be brave enough to speak out, and not enough have been, so the people are taking it into their own hands.

Nobody is rooting for the demise of white police. Being pro-black is not anti-police. In the words of the creators of Black Lives Matter themselves:

“We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.”

Emphasis on the “peace.”

It’s not an “us” against “them” thing. That’s not what the Black Lives Matter movement is about in the slightest. Anyone who is violent in the name of Black Lives Matter is taking away from it’s actual purpose, and misrepresenting the entire movement. Black Lives Matter is simply about affirming the dignity and worth of a group of people that, has been historically and continues to be, dismissed.

Final Points

I wrote this piece using Black Lives Matter as an example of an organization and movement that is benefitting from citizen journalism, but there are so many others. On the ground in places riddled with conflict, like Syria, Nigeria, and Somalia, citizen journalists are our only source of information. They are also reporting at very high stakes potentially risking their lives in order to shed light on events taking place.

There are benefits that come with being a citizen journalist, but this job also comes with potentially deadly consequences, and we have to remember that.

Our phones are not a shield. It is a useful tool and has been proven to help bring justice, but it can also put you in even more danger because those committing crimes might turn and come after you. The news is all around us, and we can all take part in capturing and sharing it, but we must be smart at the same time.

As a multiracial American citizen, my heart aches at the prominent racial division taking place in my country right now. I don’t hate many things, but I hate this, and I want to fight it. I hate that I am being forced to choose which part of me to stand with. I’m 50% black and 50% white, and I’m not taking sides. Race and ethnicity are fluid, they are not dichotomous. I refuse to choose what I want to be. I simply am who I am, regardless of the labels people put on me, but at the same time I have to acknowledge this fact:

Nobody has ever made ignorant or aggressive comments about my White background, but the same can’t be said for my African American. If white people were being persecuted for being white, I would stand up for them too. But that is not the case.

If you’re still confused about what Black Lives Matter stands for, or if you feel like you need to stand on one side or the other, I urge you to educate yourself. Whether you read a story from a citizen journalist like myself, or a reporter from CNN or BBC, just read something that looks at both sides of the story, and be critical of everything you do read. “Alternative facts,” are not a thing.

Thanks for reading.

-Plain Jane xx

“what, if allowed to live, we can grow up and become.”

– Frank Ocean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s