Black folks are already dying of COVID at 4 times the rate of white folks while doctors on TV blame everything from obesity to melanin, conveniently ignoring the well-established factors of medical bias and environmental racism. And now the news is teeming with egregious cases of police and civilians alike executing Black folks on shadows of suspicion, reminding us that for all our talk of peace and unity, racism festers under the surface like dry rot.
Last night I felt so hopeful as I saw footage a protest in my small, conservative town - a truly multi-cultural group of protesters gathered downtown singing Lean On Me together while a man passed out masks to those who didn't have them. Not great in the social distancing department, but heartening to see. This morning I learned that the peaceful protest ended with cops lobbing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets into the crowd.
So I feel pretty helpless pretty much all the time. Getting to a protest in the past has been logistically very difficult, and now that we've got a plague and I've got a malfunctioning immune system, I'm not going to do much good there. I can donate money, and I do, but that feels like hardly anything.
The best thing I can do, far as I can tell, is stick my nose all the way up in people's business. So I'm going to use this post to talk to you about the time I filmed an uneventful police encounter. Not because I want cookies for being a good ally, but because this is a really simple way for white people to become part of the solution. If you pay attention to police encounter videos where there are multiple people shooting, you'll often notice that cops are going after Black folks who are recording and ignoring white people for doing the same. That means we've got an opportunity to use our privilege for good here.
First, know that filming police encounters is your first amendment right, no matter what police might tell you. As long as you're not impeding their ability to do their job you are free to document. It does feel kind of like a dick move to stand around recording someone who hasn't done anything wrong yet, but I just reminded myself that most people have security cameras trained on them all day at their jobs, and nobody bats an eye about it.
So, this January I was walking through a parking lot and caught the immediate aftermath of a car accident. I didn’t see what happened, but from the conversation, it sounded like one of them was going the wrong way in a one-lane aisle. The two women involved - one Black and one white, were calm and civil, but I decided to stick around until the cops showed up, because I have seen way too many videos of routine traffic stops turn into lynchings to take for granted that everything’s gonna work out fine.
Eventually the Black woman (call her Kay) noticed me lurking nearby, so I told her I'd stick around to record if that was okay. She seemed relieved to have someone in her corner - she was alone while the other driver had her mom with her, plus the owner of the restaurant whose parking lot we were in kept coming out to see if she was okay and if she needed anything (completely ignoring Kay of course).
So Kay and I chatted until the cop arrived. When he got there, I hung back, put the phone in landscape mode so that I could capture as much of the action as possible, and pressed my elbows against my body to reduce camera shake. I wasn’t live-streaming, but you probably should use some kind of live upload app, like Facebook Live that automatically updates as you’re filming. Cops aren’t legally allowed to take your phone or delete anything off of it but they sometimes will anyway.
When things were winding up, I went over to where everyone was standing to ask Kay if she needed a ride to the next place she needed to be and we hugged. The officer had clearly noticed me recording, but we nodded pleasantly at each other as I left. And that was that. Now that I've done it I'm going to try to always stop when I see police interacting with Black folks.
I butt in to other people's business in other ways too. If I'm in a store and the door alarm goes off, I'll go to the door and watch, not inconspicuously, phone at the ready. Just to make sure all parties are aware there's a witness to this, hoping to communicate with my presence that if things go down differently than they would if I'd set off the alarm, I'm going to have questions. In stores and stuff, I will eavesdrop on any conversation between other people that feels like it could turn into some kind of verbal altercation, just in case the next BBQ Becky takes exception to the way some customer from a marginalized group shops for salad tongs and calls the cops. I've read too many news stories where cop calls for relatively minor offenses (or non-offensives) turned deadly in seconds. And I have a knack for wandering into and diffusing tense situations.
Also, please note that if you see Shaun King fundraising for this cause or are asked to donate to JusticeForBigFloyd.com, maybe direct your money elsewhere? Floyd's family has not been in contact with King about what King plans to do with the money and he doesn't seem to be working with any of the other charities involved.