They Can't Kill Us All

Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement


By Wesley Lowery

Formats and Prices




$34.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 15, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it.

Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

In an effort to grasp the magnitude of the repose to Michael Brown’s death and understand the scale of the problem police violence represents, Lowery speaks to Brown’s family and the families of other victims other victims’ families as well as local activists. By posing the question, “What does the loss of any one life mean to the rest of the nation?” Lowery examines the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs.

Studded with moments of joy, and tragedy, They Can’t Kill Us All offers a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, showing that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice. As Lowery brings vividly to life, the protests against police killings are also about the black community’s long history on the receiving end of perceived and actual acts of injustice and discrimination.

They Can’t Kill Us All grapples with a persistent if also largely unexamined aspect of the otherwise transformative presidency of Barack Obama: the failure to deliver tangible security and opportunity to those Americans most in need of both.



Ferguson: A City Holds Its Breath

The first time I saw the name Michael Brown was on Instagram.

I typically checked Instagram once or twice a week to see old college friends partying, or journalism colleagues posting from airports en route to an assignment. As I scrolled through my feed on the afternoon of August 9, my finger stopped when I reached a series of videos uploaded by Brittany Noble, a local news reporter in St. Louis whom I consider an older sister. The clip showed a disheveled woman screaming, crying. The police, she said, had killed her firstborn son. Over her shoulder a crowd had gathered.

I first met Brit-tan-ney, as she always teasingly insisted we pronounce it, at one of the annual gatherings of the National Association of Black Journalists. We were then both job-hungry college students and quickly hit it off while discussing the feedback we'd received on our résumés from recruiters and comparing invites to the conference's nightly receptions. Five years later, we remained part of a core group of friends from those conferences who stayed in semifrequent touch as we tried to navigate entry-level journalism jobs.

Brittany had graduated a few years earlier than me, and after bouncing around several smaller-market television stations, she'd settled into a gig with KMOV, the CBS affiliate in St. Louis, which was both her hometown and that of her fiancé, Mike. As they prepared for the wedding, they decided to live in a racially diverse town not far from the city: Ferguson.

Two years after taking the gig in Missouri, Brittany was working weekends, giving her Friday nights to the job and then, after a few hours of sleep, heading back out into the field for early-Saturday- and Sunday-morning live shots. It's the type of thankless work done by many young reporters, but she was glad to be back home.

The only thing bigger than Brittany's smile is her drive, and that ambition meant she was often looking for a way to stand out on the job, constantly searching for a small scoop or a neighborhood feature that her competition might have overlooked. It didn't hurt that she had connections. Her mother, before she retired, had been one of the highest-ranking black women in the history of the St. Louis Police Department. Her soon-to-be father-in-law ran a prominent black church in the city. On many days, Brittany's email and voice mail were full of story tips and ideas. Not all of the leads panned out, but it wasn't rare for her to come up with a unique angle or tidbit.

Much like my own experience at the Globe, working general assignment can be a mixed bag: one day you're covering a high school graduation, the next you're camped out beside crime scene tape.

And then, of course, there are the officer-involved shootings. Brittany's first came on July 1, 2012, at her first job at a station in Saginaw, Michigan. A homeless black man, Milton Hall, had been shot and killed by the police in the parking lot of a shopping plaza.

The officers responded to a 911 call about a man who had stolen a cup of coffee from a convenience store. When they arrived, they encountered Hall, who was carrying a knife, and they began to argue with him. The forty-nine-year-old had a history of mental illness and had been living on the street.

Eight officers reported to the scene, and they told investigators that when they arrived Hall threatened a female officer with the knife and closed within a few feet of her. After a standoff of several minutes, the officers—who had formed a semicircle around Hall as he staggered forward—opened fire.

With traffic driving past and several bystanders in the parking lot, the officers shot forty-seven bullets in total, with eleven of them riddling Hall's body. The shooting was caught on cell phone video and soon was playing on loop on CNN. "The community was outraged, they said they were going to protest and demonstrate and blow the whole place up if these officers didn't get indicted," Brittany recalled to me years later. "And then the officers didn't get indicted, and nothing happened."

Before Ferguson, this story line was as common as it was hidden. A community flies into rage after a questionable police shooting, leaders hold vigils and marches, figureheads call for accountability, and then, almost as quickly as the tragedy began, it ends. Everyone but the grieving family moves on with their lives until the next time a radio dispatcher puts out the call:

Need backup. Shots fired. Officer involved.

When that call came on August 9, 2014, Brittany was in St. Louis. Having worked the early-morning Saturday shift, she was across town preparing for her engagement photo shoot.

"Hey, Brittany, you see that the police shot somebody in Ferguson?" her fiancé called out before handing her the phone so she could see for herself. Perhaps he was already tiring of the engagement photos, because he knew full and well what would happen next.

In an industry dominated by white reporters and editors, young black journalists are told early and often that they've got to go above and beyond—showing up unasked for a weekend shift, coming in early and staying late on the weekdays, and always being ready, at a moment's notice, to drop everything and run toward the story. For two years that was what Brittany, one of the only black reporters at her station and one of just a few dozen in St. Louis—a major media market—had been doing. She often felt overlooked or underappreciated, but if she kept doing her job, if she kept chasing and getting "the story," she knew they couldn't ignore her and her work forever.

Brittany fired off an email to her bosses, asking if they had anyone headed to the scene. When they didn't respond, she called a producer directly.

"You need me to come in?" she asked.

Minutes later she landed the first major scoop of Ferguson: the emotional reaction of Michael Brown's mother as she arrived at the scene.

As Brittany raced across town, residents of the Canfield Green apartment complex began flooding the streets. The shooting had happened on a quiet side street, in a spot surrounded by four-level apartment buildings. As the crowds gathered, others took to windows and porches, looking down at the chaos developing below. Within minutes after the shooting, word spread through the surrounding apartments, and beyond, that Brown's hands were up in the air when the fatal shots were fired by Officer Darren Wilson, who had encountered Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson while responding to a call about two young men, matching their description, who had just been involved in the robbery of a nearby liquor store.

As police officers scrambled to secure the scene, an enraged, agitated crowd was quickly gathering. Why is Brown's body still out there? Why was he shot and killed in the first place? And why do we keep hearing that he had his hands up?

"Get us several more units over here," one of the responding officers demanded over the police radio. "There's gonna be a problem."

Johnson and Brown had entered Ferguson Market & Liquor at 11:53 that morning—with Brown, the younger of the two men, grabbing a thirty-four-dollar box of Swisher Sweets and attempting to walk out. The employee working behind the counter that day told Brown that he had to pay for the smokes, and in response the teen grabbed the man by the collar and shoved him. One of the store's security cameras captured the violent exchange, an eleven-second video clip that would be the last living image of Brown.

But in the hours and days after Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson, none of the residents of Ferguson knew about the liquor store robbery. That information wouldn't come out for days, when still-frame images from surveillance cameras were released by Ferguson PD. In fact, in those early days, police refused to release any information or answer any question of substance.

Why had Brown been shot and killed? Who was the officer involved? What was the potential threat to the officer that prompted his use of deadly force? But a vacuum of information always finds a way to be filled, especially in a crowded apartment complex full of dozens of people who claimed to have seen the struggle and the shooting.

The Canfield Green apartments are a cluster of half a dozen cream-colored buildings with green and brown trim. The thirty-seven-acre complex contains more than 414 apartments, one- and two-bedroom units, for which Canfield's almost exclusively black residents fork over about five hundred dollars a month.It's a relatively low-income sliver of Ferguson, a city that is socioeconomically diverse. Residents complain of gang activity, of break-ins, and of their ears too frequently seizing at the sharp cackle of gunshots.

During my first days on the ground in Ferguson, many Canfield residents believed that Brown—after being confronted by Wilson for jaywalking—had been shot in the back as he ran away. Dorian Johnson, Brown's friend who was with him when he was killed, claimed that after an initial struggle and gunfire, Brown ran away from Wilson, turned around, put his hands up, and shouted out, "Don't shoot!" Johnson ran away after Brown and Wilson began struggling, ducking behind a nearby vehicle as the fatal shots were fired. An even more inflammatory rumor, later proven untrue, was soon circulating throughout Ferguson: that Officer Wilson had stood over Brown's dying body and fired an execution shot into the dying teen's chest.

For many of those first nights after Brown's death, people believed that there was video of the shooting, with rumors flying that officers had seized residents' cell phones to keep the videos from spreading. And there was anger about the number of bullets fired by Wilson.

Why would Wilson need to shoot Mike Brown six times? Why didn't he have a Taser? Why did it take so long for Brown's body to be moved from the ground?

"I could see how [the officer] could be intimidated, but that ain't a reason to be gunned down, not nine times, not with your hands up," said Duane Finnie, thirty-six, a childhood friend of Brown's father and friend of the family, who was one of the first people I interviewed after arriving in Ferguson. "I just put myself in Mike's shoes, and like, your last seconds of life you're getting executed by somebody who is supposed to protect and serve you.

"People are tired of being misused and mistreated, and this is an outlet for them to express their outrage and anger; everyone is looking for an outlet to express their emotions," he told me on August 11, two days after the shooting. "This is a reason…all the looting and what's going on, but people want to be heard, and they don't know how to do it. So that's why they lash out."

"They're not trying to let this one get swept under the table," a friend of Finnie's, who had been standing alongside him while we spoke, chimed in.

Investigators would later conclude that Brown's hands were most likely not up and that the altercation began when the eighteen-year-old punched Darren Wilson after the officer, responding to the robbery call, attempted to stop him on the street.

Whether Brown was attempting to surrender or attempting to attack Officer Wilson when the fatal shots were fired remains murky. The evidence shows that "Hands up, don't shoot"—a national rallying cry, the chief chorus of the dead boy's defenders—was based on a falsehood. But as anger boiled into rage, no one in Ferguson could have known that yet.

They did know that the police in Ferguson looked nothing like them: an almost-all-white force charged with serving and protecting a majority black city. They knew all too well about the near-constant traffic tickets they were being given, and how often those tickets turned into warrants.

And they knew that Mike Mike, the quiet kid who got his hair cut up the street on West Florissant and who was often seen walking around in this neighborhood, was dead.

"That could be any of us. That could have been me dead on the street!" screamed Carl Union, twenty-seven, a local DJ who refused to leave one of the early protests despite multiple rounds of heavy tear gas. Union said that when he saw the images of Brown's body in the street he thought of his young daughter. When he heard that Brown had been shot by the police, he became angry and decided to join the protest. "It's like we're not even human to them," Union said through tears.

Mike Brown's body remained on the hot August ground for four and a half hours—a gruesome, dehumanizing spectacle that further traumatized the residents of Canfield Drive and would later be cited by local police officials as among their major mistakes.

For some, first in Ferguson and later around the nation, the spectacle of Brown's body cooling on the asphalt conjured images of the historic horrors of lynchings—the black body of a man robbed of his right to due process and placed on display as a warning to other black residents.

If the police were willing not only to kill Mike Brown, residents of Canfield Drive would ask me as I interviewed them, but also to let his body sit out that way, what would they be willing to do to the rest of us?

Within an hour of the shooting, word had traveled to Michael Brown's family—his mother, stepfather, and father—who each individually made their way to Canfield Drive. Police had sealed off the block, causing a bottleneck of dozens and eventually hundreds of people who began to gather at the corner at West Florissant Avenue. That was where Brittany and the videographer she had with her parked their news van, and where she first approached Lezley McSpadden, the slain boy's mother.

Another reporter at Brittany's station was supposed to interview the family, so initially Brittany focused on getting reaction quotes from enraged local residents. But Brown's mother was standing just a few feet away, and it didn't look like any of the reporters were talking to her. Finally, Brittany asked one of the residents she had interviewed—a cousin of Brown's—if he would make an introduction. Initially she didn't even bring her cameraman with her, assuming that her colleague had already interviewed the dead teen's mother. Instead, Brittany thought, she'd upload the video to Instagram—since that was where she had first heard the story.

"You didn't have to shoot him eight times!" McSpadden exclaimed to Brittany. "You just shot all through my baby's body."

Brittany ended up working late into the night, transmitting live shots for every newscast, ending with the 11:30 p.m., and watching as the crowds that gathered became more and more frustrated and angry.

The Ferguson and St. Louis County police had sent scores of officers, some in full riot gear and tactical vehicles, to deal with the growing crowds and to hold them back as they attempted to investigate for themselves the scene of the shooting. All of this is pretty standard for the scene of a police shooting—police, protesters, angered residents and families—but the scale of the immediate response from both the community and law enforcement signaled that perhaps Ferguson would be different.

"This was a scene that I had never seen before, a heartbreak that I had never felt before from the people I was interviewing," Brittany later told me. "I just felt different. Something wasn't right. This wasn't the typical police shooting scene."

And then, after four hours, as midday turned to late afternoon, officers finally removed Brown's body from the asphalt. They did not address the crowds who were hungry for answers after spending most of their Saturday hearing inflammatory rumors. "People were like: after all of that, they're just going to leave?" Brittany said. "They're not going to say anything? These people were hurt." As the police began to leave, church groups started walking down Canfield Drive, following the still-hysterical Lezley McSpadden to the spot where crimson blood still stained the ground.

When they arrived, the groups circled around McSpadden and her husband and began to pray, sing, and hug. Some were older folks from the church up the road, others were younger residents who poured out of the Canfield apartments. What had been a rambunctious crowd had composed itself to create a vigil for a violent death.

But the tranquility didn't last. As the prayer group began to break up, the residents of Canfield began to yell. Prayer wasn't going to fix this. Neither was singing. The police had to answer for this. Why was Mike Brown dead? Why had his body been left out for so long? And when would we get answers?

Amid the shouting, someone lit a Dumpster on fire. While moments earlier desperate prayers were being sent above, now it was the flash of flames floating into the night air.

Ferguson survived that first night. The Dumpster fire and the sound of distant gunshots spooked police, but they were nothing compared with what was to come.

The following day, the Ferguson Police Department still hadn't explained what had happened or apologized for keeping Brown's body out on the ground for so long. And church groups were calling for a march in the slain teen's honor.

That Sunday afternoon, after services concluded, local pastors and their flocks met at the spot where Brown was killed. Hundreds showed up, surrounding newly erected memorials made of candles, stuffed animals, and liquor bottles that together overflowed the grass shoulders on either side of the two-lane road.

The crowd started marching and chanting, for the first time, what they believed to be Michael Brown's own words in his final moments.

"Hands up, don't shoot!"

The cries rang into the air as the crowd, including many students set to begin school the following week, as well as middle-aged residents of the apartment complex, moved forward. As they hit West Florissant and turned left, they were met by a wall of police officers. Soon what had begun as a peaceful march had morphed into a heated standoff, blocking traffic in both directions.

The scene played out right in front of Brittany, who after spending Saturday night on the job woke up for her 5 a.m. live shot, worked a full day shift, and was again at the corner of Canfield Drive and West Florissant watching her community clash with police.

Night was close. The crowd continued shouting at the officers, who were shouting back. And as the church groups began to leave, young men emerged who seemed angrier and more determined to extract revenge for Mike Brown's death.

Brittany made her way toward the front of the demonstration, to the spot where the crowd was standing toe-to-toe with the police. A young girl, perhaps in her early teens, ran up and grabbed Brittany's arm, a look of terror in her eyes. "They knocked out the windows of your truck!" the girl screamed. "And now they're burning the QuikTrip."

Brittany turned to see the shattered glass of the news station van scattered across the ground, and as she moved toward it, she could see men running in and out of the QuikTrip gas station at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Northwinds Estates Drive.

It's unclear how it started, but in the swirl of misinformation and confusion, some in the neighborhood started spreading word that the 911 call to report a robbery by Michael Brown was made by the employees of this gas station. They most likely had confused the gas station with the liquor store up the street.

That night, armed vandals took advantage of raging protests and demonstrations to break into the QuikTrip gas station that sat just a block away from the spot on Canfield Drive where Brown was killed, grabbing handfuls of chips and sodas, cigarettes and lighters as others ripped the ATM machine from the wall. Before long, the store was ablaze.

While the photos and videos from the day of Brown's death had certainly gone viral—viewed and shared thousands of times—it was the destruction of the QuikTrip, not the police shooting of Mike Brown, that brought the microscope of the national media to Ferguson. The unrest in Ferguson had now become a riot. Yet another police shooting in a working-class black neighborhood, even the breaking of a young black body left on public display, didn't catch the gaze of the national media. It was the community's enraged response—broken windows and shattered storefronts—that drew the eyes of the nation.

Most of the so-called race riots of the 1800s and early 1900s consisted of armed clashes between white and black residents—very often precipitated by a black man or woman being somewhere that black folks "didn't belong."

That began to change in the 1930s. The large-scale racial conflicts that began in 1935 consisted primarily not of white Klansmen and residents ransacking black homes and businesses but of black men and women lashing out with violence against symbols of the white establishment: businesses, storefronts, and government buildings.

And of the more than 100 such race riots since 1935, almost all have been sparked by some type of police incident.

Between the two world wars, Harlem was believed to be the shining gold standard of what a postracial, renaissance city could look like: the nation's capital of black culture and society, full of neighborhoods with relatively peaceful integration of blacks, whites, and immigrants. But so much like almost a century later, in the Obama years, to think that Harlem was then some sort of postracial mecca required a willed ignorance of the deep racial inequalities baked into the American experience.

"The end of the Harlem Renaissance had a postracial zeitgeist never seen before, which caused its own set of anxieties for both black and white residents," Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the then director of the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who has written at length about race riots, told me long after Ferguson. "The truth is, it was in commercial establishments, like the neighborhood dime store, where there was a level of integration and race mixing, a decade after the Great Migration, that had never been seen before. Which meant there was a lot of racial tension."

On the afternoon of March 19, 1935, Lino Rivera, a sixteen-year-old black Puerto Rican boy, was caught stealing a penknife from S. H. Kress, a dime store across the street from the storied Apollo Theater. In the time it took for the police to arrive, a crowd gathered outside the storefront.

The store owner asked police to let Rivera go, but no one told the crowds that officers had quietly slipped the teen out the store's side door. In a vacuum of information, a story spread that a young black boy had been killed for stealing a piece of candy and that the police were hiding his body. A hearse just happened to pull up and park nearby. The crowd assumed the worst.

More than ten thousand black residents took to the Harlem streets, with some smashing storefront windows and later getting in fights with the white New York Police Department officers who arrived to break up the violent assembly.

"Police, despite their numbers, were handicapped in dealing with the rioters by the necessity of guarding the windowless stores," a reporter for the New York Daily News wrote the next day. "Looting of stores was the objective of hundreds of hoodlums who swarmed into the district from Manhattan and the Bronx after news of the riot spread. Burglar alarms and false alarms were ringing constantly in the district, and fires were set in several looted stores."

By the time the rioting had concluded a day later, 125 people had been arrested, 3 people were dead, and more than two million dollars of damage had been done to local businesses.

As is almost always the case after the type of unrest commonly called a race riot, local officials quickly appointed commissions and review boards to tease out what had caused the chaos. Multiple such commissions were created to examine the 1935 unrest in Harlem.

They all concluded more or less the same thing: that the unrest was as much about systemic discrimination and inequity as it was the specific case of Lino Rivera. The "bi-racial Commission of Investigation" appointed by New York's mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, called for increased access to health care, better schools and vocational training, access to better housing, and improved relationships between police officers and black residents of Harlem as its prescription for preventing another riot.

"This relatively unimportant case of juvenile pilfering would never have taken on the significance which it later took on, had not a fortuitous combination of subsequent events made it the spark which set aflame the smouldering resentments of the city of Harlem against racial discrimination and poverty in the midst of plenty," the commission wrote in its review. "The insecurity of the individual in Harlem against police aggression is one of the most potent causes for the existing hostility to authority."

Another report, titled "The Negro in Harlem: A Report on Social and Economic Conditions Responsible for the Outbreak of March 19, 1935," concluded that the unrest came as the result of the accumulating effect of "injustices of discrimination in employment, the aggressions of the police, and the racial segregation."

Those who have studied the 1935 Harlem riot say that while the underlying issues in the neighborhood spoke to deep systemic inequality, it was the perceived disregard and devaluation of the black body, and of black life, that called forth the rage that enveloped the black men and women of Harlem on that day.

The same can be said for the violence in Ferguson. Those who set fire to the QuikTrip, and who smashed the windows of Sam's Meat Market and Red's BBQ, did so, at least in part, out of communal rage over the death of Mike Brown. Yet were it not for the deep, abiding inequality through which the black residents of Ferguson lived their lives, it is unclear if those blocks of Ferguson would ever have burst into flames.

"The Harlem riot of 1935, now the subject of a comprehensive report, demonstrated that 'the Negro is not merely the man who shouldn't be forgotten; he is the man who cannot safely be ignored,'" the writer and philosopher Alain Locke, the first black Rhodes Scholar, wrote in 1936. "Eleven brief years ago Harlem was full of the thrill and ferment of sudden progress and prosperity.… Today, with that same Harlem prostrate in the grip of the depression and throes of social unrest, we confront the sobering facts of a serious relapse and premature setback; indeed, find it hard to believe that the rosy enthusiasms and hopes of 1925 were more than bright illusions or a cruelly deceptive mirage. Yet after all there was a renaissance, with its poetic spurt of cultural and spiritual advance, vital with significant but uneven accomplishments; what we face in Harlem today is the first scene of the next act—the prosy ordeal of the reformation with its stubborn tasks of economic reconstruction and social and civic reform."


  • "Lowery's book is electric, because it is so well reported, so plainly told and so evidently the work of a man who has not grown a callus on his heart.... Lowery's book is valuable for many reasons. He circles slowly and warily around the question of why, during Obama's presidency, so little has happened to improve on the racial front."--Dwight Garner, New York Times

    "Lowery's dispatches from the front lines of this new era in racial justice movement building have proven indispensable, and with They Can't Kill Us All, he further shows just how vital his reporting has become. Part early history of a still growing movement, as well as part critique of the media charged with covering this movement, Lowery also offers a peek into the process of reporting--the structural challenges, unfortunate failures, and personal successes in accurately capturing the politics and personalities involved in the biggest domestic story of the Obama presidency. They Can't Kill Us All proves itself a necessary read for anyone in need of greater understanding of why and how a new generation of young black activists have taken to the streets to demand justice from their country.—Mychal Denzel Smith, New York Times bestselling author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching
  • "Riveting.... A timely, significant book."
    Kirkus, Starred Review
  • "With empathy, anguish, and a superb eye for telling detail, Wesley Lowery chronicles the birth of the new civil rights movement. This book is an urgent, grounds-eye view of the struggle."
    Chris Hayes, author of A Colony in a Nation
  • "They Can't Kill Us All is a wise memoir that chronicles the fatigue of reporting Black death at the hands of law enforcement."
  • "Lowery takes us inside the pain and courage of those who have cared to challenge the police and this nation. He details their stories and, along the way, provides a powerful and all-too-human account of what it means to be a reporter in a time of profound crisis. His example gives me renewed home in those who report the news. This is a must read!"
    Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., author of Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul
  • "They Can't Kill Us All is a comprehensive record of the #blacklivesmatter protest movement, as well as a first-person account of those events from the author's dual--and conflicted--perspective as a journalist and an African-American man."
  • "[A] vital book.... Setting the fatal police shootings of young black men in the historical context of racial violence, Lowery also adds personal insight as a young biracial man professionally bound to the crisis."
  • "The best journalism serves as the 'first draft of history,' but every so often a reporter gets to write the second draft as well. Wesley Lowery has provided a crucial dispatch from a particularly American frontline. Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore and Cleveland are more than flashpoints in current affairs, they are the theaters in which our longstanding battles for racial equality have taken place. They Can't Kill Us All is a valuable field report on the status of American democracy itself."
    Jelani Cobb, staff writer, The New Yorker and professor of journalism, Columbia Journalism School
  • "[Lowery's portrait of a nation facing up to issues of race and justice is gripping, as are his accounts of the passion and pain of activists like Brittany Packnett, who told President Obama, 'Our lives matter, stop killing us.'"
    Jane Ciabattari, BBC
  • "A narrative of outrage, struggle, and, eventually, optimism.... A balanced look at a protest movement that's only just begun to gather focus and strength."
  • "Through hundreds of interviews, [Lowery] looks at how the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice have affected communities, plus the impact of perceived and actual discrimination. Lowery also offers insight into the movement that has sprung up in response and what is left to be done."
  • "The most eloquent passages in They Can't Kill Us All come when Lowery reveals the emotional cost paid by those who write the first draft of history, especially when the writers are journalists of color.... Lowery's strength lies in the breadth of his reporting and the depth of his introspection.... Lowery is still in his twenties, but already he's earned his spot among a small cadre of journalists of color."
    Chicago Tribune
  • "Riveting...The personal challenges faced by the young black journalist are thought-provoking and compelling. But another unique and valuable aspect of They Can't Kill Us All revolves around Lowery's examination of the complications of reporting in an era when anyone with a camera phone or social media account can break a story.... Lowery's insider perspective offers fresh insight into what it means to cover a broad national story about race in a rigorous and sustained way."
    Boston Globe
  • "They Can't Kill Us All offers a window onto the journalistic process, and the countervailing pressures to tell and important and awful story fairly.... Lowery is unflinchingly honest...a skillful reporter and storyteller. He takes the reader through the laborious task of reportage with a humanity and forthrightness, making this book more than just a catalog of tragedy. He succinctly presents a story of human grief."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "Insightful and unnerving.... Lowery draws crucial connections between the 'centuries-long assault of the black body,' and contemporary black massacre."
    Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "With so much political media coverage to distract us, Lowery sets out to remind us why revisiting our history is crucial for racial improvement."
    New York Magazine's The Cut
  • "What makes They Can't Kill Us All more than a ripped-from-the-headlines chronicle is Lowery's combination of solid reporting, emotional commitment to his story as a black man and a reflective turn of mind."
    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • "Everyone should read it. It is incredibly well-reported and very well done.... It's a fantastic book. Go out and read it."
    Chris Hayes, All In With Chris Hayes
  • "Documents, with refreshing candor and vulnerability, his efforts to balance life and work, ambition and compassion.... [Lowery's] reflections, observations and personal dilemmas offer a glimpse behind the scenes as a reporter hones his craft and calibrates his moral and professional compasses.... Through it all, Lowery was honest with himself, and now, in his book, he is honest with his readers. This candor enhances his credibility as a journalist.... Overall, this is a beautifully written reporter's journal that offers an overview of an important chapter in 21st-century African American history.... As a young man who has seen up close the bloody misuse of power and the fire and fury it engenders, Lowery has remained steadfast in his role as witness and truth-teller. His example of integrity under fire and professionalism under pressure should be an example to his junior and senior colleagues alike. We desperately need tough and tenacious reporters unafraid to speak truth to power as we wade into the multiple uncertainties of the next four years."
    Washington Post
  • "Lowery provides an anthropological examination of the movement.... The result is a vivid timeline of the movement from its origins to present day.... They Can't Kill Us All is a documentary on the awakening of young black Americans--no, all Americans--to the systematic injustices that weren't erased with the election of President Obama.... Lowery's clear-eyed reporting is exceeded only by his thoughtful, sharp sentences. He allows pain to seep into the prose, not hiding the anguish of a black man reporting on so much black death while pointing out connections that can't be ignored.... [Lowery] is one of the best on the national beat."
    San Francisco Chronicle
  • "An explosive examination of police brutality"
    O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "[Lowery's] careful behind-the-scenes reporting offers insight into how the various grassroots campaigns converged into what is now often referred to as a single protest movement.... The quiet optimism underlying his book is itself an act of protest in our dark times."—The Nation
  • "It is a model for journalism that is as deeply felt as it is informative."
    City Paper

On Sale
Nov 15, 2016
Page Count
256 pages

Wesley Lowery

About the Author

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter for the Washington Post who covers law enforcement and justice. He was the paper’s lead reporter in Ferguson, Missouri and covering the Black Lives Matter protest movement, and was a member of the team awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the paper’s coverage of police shootings. His reporting has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

Learn more about this author