A woman kneels in a cloud of gas as she protests the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Getty
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In America, fear is growing that the police are getting out of control

Barely a week goes past without a terrible incident, and too often the police officer is white and the other people involved are black.

It should have been a routine traffic stop.

A motorist, who was not wearing her seatbelt, was pulled over. In less than 15 minutes the encounter ended with a police officer smashing an axe through the car window and using a Taser on the front seat passenger.

The incident would have gone unnoticed but for the fact that one of the woman’s two children in the back filmed the incident on his mobile phone.

This was just one of a series of confrontations between black Americans and white officers in recent months in which the police seem all too ready to respond with disproportionate force.

Unease about the police is not restricted to the liberal left.

Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican senator for Kentucky and a possible presidential candidate, warned about what he described as the militarisation of the police in Time.

He warned that towns were competing for surplus military equipment from the Federal government to build up their own small armies.

“When you couple this militarisation of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury – national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture – we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands,” he wrote.

“Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them.

“Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.”

Senator Paul’s remarks followed fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August. According to several eyewitnesses he had his hands up when the police officer opened fire.

Fuelled by the social media, the black community in Ferguson reacted furiously, triggering some of the worst riots seen in America for decades, with protests spreading to around 60 other cities.

This was hardly an isolated incident. New research by ProPublica showed an alarming racial disparity in the chances of being killed by the police.

Examining 1,217 fatal shootings, it found that black teenagers were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million and their white counterparts, 1.47.

Public opinion is swinging against the police with a Pew public opinion poll showing that the majority of Americans felt treated racial groups differently and did not use an “appropriate amount of force”.

Given events over the last few months, the results are hardly surprising.

Four days before the killing of Michael Brown another African-American, John Crawford, 22, was shot dead by police while talking to his girlfriend on a mobile phone. He was carrying a toy gun he had just bought at a shopping mall in Beavercreek, Ohio.

A grand jury refused to indict the two officers involved.

In July Eric Garner, a father of six, died after being arrested and subdued in a chokehold in New York – a tactic which is in fact outlawed by the city’s own police department.

Earlier this month, Ernest Satterwhite, 68, was killed in his own driveway in North Augusta, South Carolina following what local media described as a low speed nine-mile pursuit.

His offence was refusing to pull over for the police officer – something he had done on a number of previous occasions.

The officer said that Satterwhite made a grab for his gun, though apparently there was no evidence to back that up.

Again prosecutors tried to act, but as with the Crawford case, the grand jury refused to press a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Other incidents may have not ended fatally, but have still been pretty horrific such as the repeated shooting of Levar Jones on September 4 in South Carolina.

Jones, 35, had just pulled into a filling station when he was confronted by a state trooper, who suspected that he was not earing a seatbelt.

Jones was ordered to produce his driving licence but was then shot repeatedly when he reached into his truck to fish it out.

On this occasion the whole thing was caught on film by the dashboard camera in the state trooper’s car and it is not pretty viewing.

The officer, Sean Groubert, has been sacked and is facing aggravated battery charges. His defence was that he saw something black in Jones’s hands – it was his wallet.

David Millward is a US correspondent for the Daily Telegrpah

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.