Police brutality has been making headlines with the recent murder of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Peaceful protests asking for justice that have followed the shooting have been assaulted by police with the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. Policemen have even fired into residential areas as protesters fled, with no regard for citizens who were not involved in the protest or regard for damage to personal property. Those documenting the protests and other acts of police brutality have been told to shut their cameras off and have been faced with violence if they do not comply. Even reporters from major news organizations have been arrested without cause and assaulted in at least one reported account. These infringements on civil rights have gone for the most part unpunished; officers getting the equivalent of a slap on the wrist from their superiors. Our country’s police departments are becoming more like military operations every day.
While watching a livestream of the protests happening in Ferguson, I thought of two books that parallel to what has become of our police department. Both The Hunger Games and The Harry Potter series touch on police brutality, racism, and media censorship.
For those of you who haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games, it takes place in a futuristic America named Panem which is split into twelve districts with a powerful Capital that rules them all. The equivalent to a police force in these districts are ironically called Peacekeepers and they keep the citizens in line by any means necessary. The means necessary frequently involve— especially in the second book, Catching Fire— brute force, public floggings, and strict curfew with deadly consequences if not obeyed. Anyone who speaks out against the Capital, whom the Peacekeepers serve, is met with swift retribution.
In Catching Fire, after Katniss, the heroine, speaks about Rue, a young girl who was murdered, during the 74th Hunger Games Victory Tour, a man from Rue’s district raises his hand in a three finger salute and whistles Rue’s famous four note tune. This starts an uprising in the district and the man is shot for inspiring it while others meet similar retribution.
The protests that have been occurring in Ferguson, MO have been met with paralleling brutality. Those who are standing up and demanding justice for Michael Brown have put their lives on the line for what they believe in, and police officials are having none of it. They have been gassed and shot simply for exercising their right to assemble. It’s shocking to see how similar these policemen are to the Peacekeepers of Panem.
The character named Gale in The Hunger Games is arrested and whipped by Peacekeepers for poaching. Katniss jumps in front of the Peacekeepers and her celebrity status effectively saves Gale from more abuse. She is the “darling of the Capital” and the Peacemaker realizes he can not harm Katniss without President Snow coming down on him. If it weren’t for her celebrity, she would likely be shot and killed for standing up.
This again parallels to what is happening in Ferguson, as Ryan Reilly from the Huffington Post and Washington Post Wesley Lowery were arrested in a McDonalds, assaulted, detained, then let go without any paperwork. They had interviewed one of the police men earlier that day. Had these reporters been regular citizens documenting the events of Ferguson, they would most likely still be in jail. Fear of backlash from the media is likely why the reporters were set free without charge, similar to a fear of backlash from the Capital in The Hunger Games in the case of Katniss standing up for Gale.
So how does Ferguson relate to Harry Potter? One major theme of Harry Potter is indeed racism. While racism in our world is primarily about the color of one’s skin, it is quite different in the Wizarding World where everything has to do with bloodlines. Draco Malfoy frequently uses the slur “Mudblood” to insult Hermione Granger and does so again in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris is found petrified. “Enemies of the Heir beware? You’ll be next mudbloods!” Muggleborns like Hermione have to work extra hard to overcome the stigma put on their bloodline. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we see that this type of racism is even evident in the Ministry of Magic when Harry, Hermione, and Ron pass by a statue in the building that depicts muggles and muggleborns being crushed under a pillar. Th pillar reads “Magic is Might” and purebloods stand atop it.
Harry Potter also relates because of how it talks about media censorship and consolidation. The Daily Prophet starts harmless enough, but as the books progress, and especially in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it becomes a tool for the Ministry of Magic and by extension, Voldemort himself. The Ministry refuses to accept that Voldemort is back and labels Harry as “Undesirable Number One” for spreading the truth about the Dark Lord’s return. When reading The Daily Prophet, wizards wouldn’t find anything about the Wizarding War or the horrible truth of what Voldemort was doing. The only reliable news outlets such as Potterwatch had to act carefully for fear of retribution. Xenophilius Lovegood, owner, editor and reporter of the independent paper The Quibbler, is one news source that does not escape retribution. After printing articles about Voldemort’s return and the war, his daughter Luna is kidnapped and the reporter is forced to print lies, then ultimately kidnapped himself. Because of how cautious reporters had to be during the war, few citizens had access to the truth.
Reporters big and small on the scene at Ferguson put themselves at risk. “Turn your cameras off!” is frequently shouted by police before shooting into the crowd. Like The Ministry of Magic and Voldemort in Harry Potter, they don’t want the truth of what is happening to reach the public. Police will target reporters and often damage camera equipment. Police have even gone to taking down sites where livestreams of what is happening are posted. There is so much false information being passed around that many people don’t fully understand what is happening. There has been speculation on whether the name of the officer released as the one who shot Michael Brown is actually true.
So what? How will spotting the similarities between fiction and reality make a difference? Well, it has made a difference in the past. In 2007, StopBigMedia.com teamed up with The Harry Potter Alliance in an attempt to stop media consolidation. They launched the website Potterwatch to “illustrate the dangers of allowing giant corporations to swallow up local, diverse media outlets.” They did this in three ways. First, they pointed out the parallels between media consolidation in the Wizarding World and media consolidation in our world. Second, they released “Rocking Out Against Voldemedia” a free compilation album of Wizard Rock songs on the topic of media consolidation. Lastly, they urged fans to write their congressmen about the issue. And you know what? It worked. The two groups made the Senate reverse the FCC’s ruling.
When we take a familiar story like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter and we tell people, “Look! The same thing is happening right now and you have the opportunity to stand up and stop it!”, people can better identify both what the problem is and how to combat it. If fictional characters can fight against this and win, why can’t we? The answer, of course, is that we can. We can stand up like Katniss and Harry Potter and fight against brutality and racism. We as fans can come together and be a Dumbledore’s Army for the real world. The Harry Potter Alliance is already asking fans to cast a Sonorous Charm, the spell that makes your voice louder, on the protesters in Ferguson by sharing, retweeting, and reblogging documentation of the brutality. Both they and author John Green, a huge supporter of The Harry Potter Alliance, are keeping tabs on Twitter feeds and livestreams that are reporting on the issue. When it comes to Ferguson, our most powerful magic is our voice and we must use it. If we don’t, the Voldemorts and President Snows of our world win.
Photo credit to AP and Wesley Lowery
Cover Photo Credit to The Baltimore Sun; The Dark Room
Music credit to Roonil Wazlib
Videos credit to The Harry Potter Alliance, Freepress.net, and Warner Bros.