By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
We love ourselves some law enforcement on social media. We really like to see our men and women in blue doing things that make them seem like humans we like behind those badges. Videos of cops lip syncing while driving get lots of shares. Recent videos of cops in well-choreographed dance-offs are very popular. These kinds of social posts are good for community relations and for law enforcement PR. They reinforce the image of a police force that is in public service – you know, to protect and serve and all that.
Let’s face it. Police departments need to good PR these days. Cell phone video cameras have changed the way many people view the police after watching them in action in some very unflattering candid moments. Nothing like watching a cop beat or even kill someone under questionable circumstances to change public perception in a way that makes it harder for cops to do what they do.
So, yeah, stories of cops who spend time with neighborhood children after their shifts shooting hoops and eating sandwiches are a nice change of narrative at a time when policing tactics are being questioned all around the nation. While these heartwarming public interest posts involving law enforcement might be lovely for some of us, for others, they fall very flat for some very good reasons.
White people don’t understand what it’s like to have to have “the talk” with their children where they explain to their kids how not to get shot by a cop. White people do not understand the terror of a traffic stop you hope you live through. We can’t. We have no context for that. I have two sons and as a white woman, I’m not terribly concerned I’m going to lose them to the police. One of my sons is only ten. It might seem unreasonable to even think about a ten-year-old getting shot by a cop. However, every parent of color feels it in the pit of their stomach when they watch their children of any age walk out the door, especially if that child is male.
So white people may love those feel-good videos of law enforcement good old boys doing good things. However, for people of color, those videos might feel a lot like gaslighting because they are.
The video above has been floating around social media for about a year. It hasn’t gone away. I’ve seen it several times in the last few days alone. As a white person, I’m kind of charmed by the cop who stops this black couple and sites some bogus regulation for pulling them over as a ruse to give them ice cream. It’s clever. How kind on a hot summer day, right? What a nice guy!
However, a black person might experience that very differently. Watching that video, when I look, even I can see two black people in that car who are afraid – terrified maybe. Both keep their hands in plain view. Both are extremely deliberate and respectful. The gentleman keeps his cell phone in view on his lap – he may even be recording the encounter. They are in a situation where they have good reason to be uncomfortable.
This self-gratifying feel-good stunt by a police officer is an abuse of power. If he wanted to hand out ice cream why not do it on a playground? Instead, he makes it a “joke” by abusing his authority to pull people over. He may not see it that way, but that doesn’t matter. We all get a feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we see the flashing lights in the rearview mirror. But make no mistake, that feeling is not exactly the same for everyone. White people aren’t afraid of the cops. They simply don’t want to get a ticket and have their insurance rates go up.
These two people are afraid of cops. Their Mamas taught them to be very aware in this moment. When she puts her hands over her face and it looks like she’s crying for a bit – she might be – and it’s probably from relief. Not the kind of relief you get knowing you’re not getting a ticket or from ice cream on a hot day. It’s the kind of relief you get when you realize you’re probably not going to get drug out of your car or worse.
Using black people as props to prop up the image of white police officers in fun little videos like this is insensitive at best and abusive at worst. Most people of color will never have an interaction quite that friendly with an officer in blue. And I’m not saying all cops are bad. I am saying many cops don’t understand their biases and abuse their power in communities of color.
People of color have good reasons to be afraid of law enforcement. It’s not just random anecdotal cellphone video that makes it so. Statistical analysis proves it. Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. Native Americans are even more at risk of being shot by police per capita.
If you were more than twice as likely to be shot by a cop in a traffic stop than your neighbor, would you find it entertaining to be pulled over for ice cream? Would you be grateful? Would you maybe be totally stoked or traumatized by the “kind gesture” carefully videoed for Facebook?
I mean, maybe more than twice as likely to be shot wouldn’t bother you that much – but what if it was your child behind that wheel or in the passenger seat who was more than twice as likely to have a fatal interaction with law enforcement?
In a perfect world, or even a better world, these videos would be representative of the relationships law enforcement has with the communities they serve – and in some communities, it might be true. However, in other communities, communities of color, these videos portray a fantasy served up to entertain white folk who like to support the men and women in blue.
Gaslighting for PR is not ok.
Sharing the videos might delight your white friends who get joy from watching them. However, those feel-good moments are staged or even extorted at the expense of people who don’t want to play along. Please at least take a moment to reconsider before you hit that share button.
To the good white cop who really is spending his own money on snacks for the kids in the hood and spending his off time hanging out with them – thanks. Thank you for being a stand-up guy. However, until good cops like you will stand up and speak out against the “few bad apples” in your department, don’t expect that investment of your time, money, and energy to make you more trusted in the community than any other cop with a badge and a gun.
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Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.