Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: When bad news is good news

ShabazzI know there has been a lot of hand-wringing this summer over images, usually on social media, of a black person or other minority doing nothing out of the ordinary and then a white person calls the cops. It’s called #LivingWhileBlack.

We can all cite numerous examples: the little kids—one was selling water, the other was cutting grass, when a white person called the cops. There was the firefighter who was doing his job when the police were called. And, of course, there were the two black men minding their own business at Starbucks when the cops were called.

There have even been a couple of incidents in Indianapolis where “bad behavior” was caught on camera. However, with one of those incidents, the alleged victim ended up getting arrested downtown a few days later for drunk and disorderly conduct and hitting a police car. So we have to take these things with a grain of salt and realize we are only looking at one perspective and should wait until all the facts are in before casting final judgment.

Despite that, I know some of you will use these examples to reiterate the message that a pattern of systemic racism is alive and well in America. As a result, you’ll want to go shut down an interstate in protest. At least that’s what protesters did in my hometown of Chicago.

But hear me out for just a minute: The fact that these things are happening isn’t necessarily all bad. No, let me rephrase that. The fact these things are happening and people are getting caught on video is a great thing.

I know, you are probably thinking I have jumped the shark on this one, but consider this: Had any of these incidents happened 15, 20—or, heck, even five years ago—it’s highly doubtful anyone would have heard about it. Now, with social media, it’s a lot harder for people to get away with racial profiling and other abhorrent behavior without suffering some kind of consequence.

Remember Permit Patty, the white woman who went viral for appearing to call the police on an 8-year-old black girl selling water without a permit? Well, Alison Ettel, her real name, ended up resigning from her job at a California cannabis company.

And even when law enforcement doesn’t do its job—e.g., when a woman of Puerto Rican descent was accosted in a park in Chicago this summer by a racist individual, and the park police officer there did nothing—well, he ended up under investigation and reassigned to a desk. He later resigned.

Even when those guys got together in Madison over Labor Day weekend for their “Ku Klux Klan Kookout,” social media was there to show all 13 of them debating whether to use white or wheat buns for their hot dogs or hamburgers. (My money is that they chose white bread, in part because it’s “enriched.”)

So the next time you see one of these incidents on TV or social media, don’t get mad; get glad. Get glad that bad behavior has been caught on camera and people have to live with the consequences of their actions. Maybe other folks who want to engage in similar behavior will think twice. And don’t forget to tell them to smile for the camera.•

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Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to [email protected]

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