If you're threatening to call the police on a black person for selling water, using coupons or mowing the lawn, brace yourself: You might soon go viral. Witnesses to such incidents, smartphones in hand, have captured the nation's attention in recent months while holding harassers accountable.
White people filmed often, but not always, gain tongue-in-cheek monikers online — BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and Pool Patrol Paula, to name a few — as videos rack up half a million to over a million views.
It's a form of activism that puts racial targeting on a public stage, aiming for visibility and change. So says Professor Dhiraj Murthy, a researcher on social media activism at the University of Texas at Austin.
"There's a cost for acting in a behavior like this: being named and shamed," Murthy said.
Murthy folds this social media activity into a bigger trend called "sousveillance," the filming of incidents in real time. This allows those without a voice to become involved in the public conversation, he said.
Rashad Robinson, president of racial justice organization Color of Change, said the on-video incidents are nothing new. But the audience is.
"Black people aren’t believed," he said. "If they were believed about these experiences we’ve been having for hundreds of years, we’d have had culture change by now."
But filming and posting these videos of everyday racism is not enough, Robinson says: Lasting societal change requires all races to speak out, organize and demand justice.
"What we can’t mistake is the presence and visibility of these videos with changing this culture," Robinson said. "The presence alone is not the power to change this."
The videos show white individuals calling the police if they feel uncomfortable or threatened around black people, he said, rather than having a conversation with them.
"People seem to believe something is illegal about black people occupying space," Robinson said. "Who belongs and who doesn't is a real tension."
A few examples of the trend:
The video posted in June shows a woman on the phone with police, reporting an 8-year-old black girl for selling water on the sidewalk without a permit. The girl, Jordan Rodgers, hoped to pay for a trip to Disneyland, she said. In the reckoning that followed, the woman resigned from her position as CEO of a cannabis company. Jordan had her Disneyland trip paid for — by a viewer of the video.
A California woman called the police in April on people who were "using a charcoal grill in a banned area." The 25-minute video, viewed by over 2 million times, gained her the nickname "BBQ Becky." A cookout event called "BBQing While Black" was later held in the same park as a response.
A woman dubbed "Pool Patrol Paula" called police In June on a black teen for swimming at her pool, where she said he "didn't belong." The hostile exchange was caught on video. The woman, Stephanie Sebby-Strempel, was charged with assault for hitting the teen and physically fighting police officers, and she later lost her position with skincare company Roden + Fields.
In an incident not seen as racially-motivated, an Oakland man dubbed "Jogger Joe" threw a homeless man's belongings into the river, sparking outrage from the community. This incident occurred near the same park as the "BBQ Becky" event. The man, Henry William Sintay, was later arrested for robbery. Members of the community brought the homeless man, Greg Markson, food and clothes, according to Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News.
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