When Michael Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson in 2014, The New York Times published a profile that referred to the slain 18-year-old as "no angel." Editors have since expressed regret over the terminology. Years later, an artist is using that coverage of the Ferguson shooting to issue a poignant reminder about the way police violence against people of color is covered en masse.
Alexandra Bell is an artist and journalism school graduate who frequently edits articles for implicit bias as part of what she's calling a "counternarrative" series. This particular piece, however, has made its way from social media to the streets of New York City. The piece consists of two posters of the aforementioned New York Times coverage with specific language redacted. For example, the headline that once read "A Teenager Grappling With Problems and Promise" now reads "A Teenager With Promise."
Bell first shared the project on Instagram in 2016, however, the newest version changed the photo of Brown from a lower-quality pixelated one to his high school graduation photo. In an interview with POPSUGAR, Bell said she struggled with that decision. "I was concerned using the photo would imply that his life had more value because he was a high school graduate. I really didn't want to play into that type of thinking," she said. Adding, "I really wanted to make sure the connection was made that he was just a teenager, so I chose the photo that I thought would give a sense of his age as well as force people to recall that time in their lives."
When asked if she thinks The New York Times learned from the backlash resulting from the profile, Bell said, "I hope they did . . . I want writers and editors to have a greater sense of the history of journalism and to actually take it into consideration when they write articles and headlines and organize layouts." She then clarified, "Maybe they already have a sense of the history and they just don't care. I definitely know that a lot of issues could be easily avoided if publications were more comfortable naming and giving visibility to whiteness."
With the help of Shoestring Press, Bell has canvassed multiple neighborhoods around Brooklyn, putting up the posters. Now, people online are spotting the posters and taking to Instagram to share photos. On the feedback she's received, Bell said, "A lot of people have been receptive to the work. I have received messages from parents saying they used the wheatpasted pieces to educate their kids about everything from the Mike Brown case to media bias." Adding, "Admittedly, that's an unexpected response."