Shortly after a grand jury voted not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner, many Americans — black and white — took to social media to express outrage over yet another perceived miscarriage of justice. As the nation watched, a reality became clear: There's an unfortunate double-standard in how law enforcement treats black people.
In response, the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite became a platform to illustrate what often happens when white people engage in criminal activity. It was a powerful moment, as white people openly acknowledged that they don't face nearly the same punishment or brutality experienced by their black counterparts. But despite the good intentions of those who participated, many others felt like the hashtag detracted from conversations about the value of black lives.
Even worse, it came during a time when many black people were still in shock and grief over the grand jury's ruling.
In response to that first trending hashtag, Jamilah Lemieux, senior digital editor for Ebony magazine, started #AliveWhileBlack. By starting the hashtag, Lemieux was pointedly attempting to refocus the debate on the community actually affected by the racial disparities, and asked black people to share about their own experiences with law enforcement.
The response was immediate, as people across the Internet began to tweet about their own brushes with injustice.
"Black people are routinely stopped, profiled and treated poorly by the people who are supposed to serve and protect them. ... In our experiences as black people, [police officers] treat us like a threat routinely and get away with it," Lemieux told Mic. "It's important to look at the different ways that black and white people are treated by police and law enforcement, but right now our stories should be at the forefront instead of the permissive ways many white people are treated by the police."
These tweets demonstrate that black people experience law enforcement in ways their white counterparts may never understand, because racism in the system remains largely unchecked. Lemieux told Mic that while many whites feel the police keep them safe, black people have never harbored that same trust because of the racial disparities.
Ultimately, #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack work in tandem to expose how race impacts the way police officers treat people, regardless of whether or not someone commits a crime.