Almost as quickly as the phrase “fake news” popped up into our vocabulary four years ago, in the last month it has seemed to have disappeared. The snarky comeback to any news story one doesn’t agree with may have faded away, but actual “fake news” is still making headlines.
Social media has given a soapbox to anyone and everyone. Stories are posted, and then shared until viral when they attract news media attention and are catapulted into the mainstream. These stories, originating from a person we know nothing about, aren’t verified and are often one-sided views with the goal of gathering attention. In some cases, the aftermath of one’s desperate attempt at 15 seconds of fame is a path of moral, civil, and cultural destruction.
The latest of this type of story is one from a U of M student in the twin cities, who after a brief interaction with the U of M police, went home to write a dramatic Instagram post of being racial profiled and the trauma it caused him, all to support his view of defunding the police.
Here is the student’s description, from Instagram, of what happened earlier this month:
I was returning back home when I saw that there was a police car. Instinctively, a couple thoughts rushed to my mind: breathe, head up, don’t walk too fast – not too slow, be normal. I took my mask off, I took my cap off, and I made sure that if anything happened that they were able to see my face. Next to me, there was a white man with his mask off, walking his dog, wearing a black coat as well. I felt safe that there was another presence there and could see the cop cars at the corner of my eyes.
I turned the corner around 5th and 12th and saw sirens going off. Immediately, squad cars pulled on all the sides and cornered me where I couldn’t escape or speak. The cop got out of his car and asked me all sorts of information, but the only thing I could think of was: what did I do wrong other than the fact I was a brown man. There were two cops behind me – hands on their guns. I had my hands up and was struggling to find the words I always had thought I’d say if I was EVER in that situation but all I could think of: one sudden move and I would be shot.
I was able to show the officer my University ID saying that I was a university student just trying to clear my mind by taking a late-night stroll but they wouldn’t believe me. After multiple questions, they turned off their lights and left me alone: no apology, no explanation, nothing. Just me: mentally and emotionally tormented with an experience that will last a lifetime.
This was brutal and the most traumatic thing I have ever experienced from the people who are supposed to be there for me”
The student also urged students to email the U of M administrators and regents to demand accountability and to “Defund these bastards.” The student’s Instagram page has since been removed from the platform.
The police had received a call of a robbery about a block from the student’s location, the suspect was dressed similarly to the student and as the cops canvassed the area, they decided to do their due diligence and question him.
The student is an elected student senator at the U and a person of color. His post quickly went viral with a large reaction leading the police to release the video of the stop – which just happens to show a completely different interaction.
The dashcam video (below) shows a completely different interaction with the officers who initially think the student was a white male and discuss if they should stop or not. They decide to stop and turn on their lights. The officers approached the student with a friendly “Hey” and explained that they had a robbery of a person kind of matching his description – wearing a dark hoodie. The student explains he’s a student and offers to show his ID, the officer says he believes him and says “he’s good to go”. The student, clearly not traumatized by the whole situation, asks if he can get a ride. The officers decline. The whole encounter lasts about a minute, it was friendly, straightforward, and simply the officers doing their job.
Racial profiling stories regarding U of M Police can be found going back several years and this recent interaction took place just days after an external review of the department concluded that U of M police should be forced to wear body cameras and not have access to military-grade weapons. The study was ordered last fall following student demands for accountability after George Floyd’s death. The University of Minnesota President, Joan Gabel, will act immediately on four of the report’s recommendations, including body cameras, meeting with local government to coordinate public safety response, creating a campus safety app for students and staff, and transferring oversight of the department to another University staff member.
The problem here is, the false narratives spread by soapbox, social media, victim seekers often spread farther and faster than the less glamourous truth comes out shortly after, leaving most of the world believing the false story, and reframing their perspectives on what they don’t realize is a lie.
These fake narratives are becoming all too common, like the staged attack of Jussie Smollett in 2019 or Rachel Dolezal pretending to be a person of color, having a leadership position at the NAACP. In all three of these stories, race was extorted for benefit – attention, career, politics etc. We all bear the cost of these sole actors. Their viral stories taint our view of the world, drive anger and resentment, and they push people away from one another.
Turning what should be a factual report of an event into a Golden Globe-winning drama when it serves those with the bullhorn, is all too common these days. The recent President Trump impeachment trials highlighted this with Democrat Representatives calling it the “bloodiest day at the capital” and calling for a 9/11 type commission to examine what happened in the few hours of the Capitol Insurrection, while those same representatives ignored their members’ own calls for attacking Trump supporters, and the many other uprisings that happened around the country in the last year.
We are creating a dangerous scenario. Taking any situation and drumming up the drama as an attempt for attention, funds, or fame will eventually stop triggering Americans. We’ll stop believing and reacting, and we might accidentally not recognize when something is really horribly wrong. The student who cried profiling is just like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, doing a disservice to his own cause of combatting racial concerns. When something truly awful happens, after being deceived in the past, no one will come to help.