On Tuesday, July 5, onlookers recorded Alton Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and uploaded the video to the internet.
One day later, Philandro Castille was shot during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota; his girlfriend livestreamed the gruesome aftermath before police confiscated her iPhone.
A day after that, a sniper’s bullets killed five police officers and injured seven others during a protest of the recent events in Dallas.
On Friday, July 8, MTV News and BET News held an open forum for artists, activists, and fans to address the traumatic events of the past week. What Now? aired on 10 Viacom networks and streamed live on YouTube and Facebook. Viewers contributed via the #WhatNow hashtag and call-ins to MTV and BET.
BET and MTV stars, including Charlamagne tha God, Jamil Smith, Marc Lamont Hill, Larry Wilmore and Franchesca Ramsey, led the discussion on police brutality, gun violence, and race relations in America.
“So he had a criminal record,” said Larry Willmore. “Martha Stewart has a criminal record. I don’t remember her being executed.”
“I don’t believe that we can trust local prosecutors to hold police officers accountable,” said Franchesca Ramsey. “We need to be the face for that.”
Grassroots organizer of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Dante Barry, pushed for his community to embrace their collective anger when it comes to systemic racism. “Black rage is righteous,” said Barry. “Black rage is necessary.”
But violence is not the answer, according to rapper Killer Mike. Mike phoned in to suggest an alternative to fighting violence with violence. The key to ending oppression, said Mike, is to support black-owned banks who can re-invest money into the black community.
The recent events are not an anomaly, as Marc Lamont Hill pointed out. But they do serve as a way to drive international attention to issues that have been affecting the black community for a very long time.
“Now we’re having a two-way conversation,” said Hill. “What can we do, but also what can law enforcement do?”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch called in to the discussion, echoing Hill’s sentiments on the history of racially motivated violence. “We’re at a point where the rest of America is acknowledging what this community has known for years,” said Lynch. “We have to move forward and focus on rebuilding the trust between the community and law enforcement.”
The hosts turned to the studio audience for their input. Audience members said they felt scared, and were tired of “hashtag activism” that was not backed up with legitimate reform.
By using its global platform to promote discussion, What Now? gave the microphone to Viacom’s diverse audience, with the hope of helping to change the discourse on race relations in America and abroad.
Hopefully, the world is listening.