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"They should have let him eat the pizza"
Cops know the "goofy criminal" story makes for "great" "content"
Okay, gonna start off with a little tasteful self-expression from (where else?) Facebook.
Now that that’s out of the way—I have not been able to stop thinking about this YouTube video of Miami PD detectives interrogating rapper DaBaby since I first saw clips of it floating around Twitter in September. I can’t say I’d recommend it as a viewing experience—I can’t and won’t watch all 45 minutes—but doing so gave me two main takeaways.
One, DaBaby, AKA Jonathan Kirk? Seems like a Cool Guy. Two, it was hard to shake the overwhelming sensation of watching something I absolutely should not be able to see.
I’m pretty sure Real World Police, the YouTube channel that published the DaBaby footage, obtains its clips through a series of strategic, meticulous FOIA requests (Jay Horowitz, if you’re reading this, I’d love to talk to you). This means technically/legally, we’re all allowed to see whatever a public agency (in this case, Miami PD) coughs up. But watching Kirk, objectively an extremely successful figure in the 2020 music scene, fall asleep leaning against the wall of an anonymous interrogation room feels intrusive and invasive, celebrity or no.
This week, two different incidents from different parts of the country reminded me of Kirk’s interrogation video, though neither subject comes out looking nearly as cool and collected. Instead, these two men feature in content designed to go viral for its wackiness—except there’s honestly nothing funny about getting chewed up and spit out by the U.S. legal system.
“Omg. They get dumber every day”
The first piece of content comes from the Fullerton Police Department’s Facebook page. The 22-second clip was posted November 13, and depicts a 25-year-old man wearing gloves while kneading a hunk of pizza dough in the kitchen of a restaurant he broke into and later robbed, taking cash, tablets, and a delivery car.
It’s easy to find the video, but I don’t want to give it any more replays, because it already got plenty of publicity. A local CBS affiliate picked the story up the same day the California police department posted the video screenshotted above to its page. USA Todaycovered it on November 15, and Cleveland.com the New York Post wrote the incident up on November 16.
The second post is also from November 13, from the Facebook page of South Carolina’s Goose Creek Police Department.
It’s the kind of post that would have slaughtered on Reddit in 2017—a man wore the same shirt two days in a row, and subsequently got pinned for stealing packages off of people’s porches! Comedy gold, right? MSN, the Charlotte Observer, Yahoo, and ABC News all thought so—the first two covered the story the day Goose Creek PD’s post went up, while the latter two caught up on November 15.
It’s clear these outlets slot this story under “wacky news,” a classic category we all know and love. But the disdain towards the men captured in these posts is critical to the “joke,” and nowhere is it more obvious than in the Facebook comments sections of the original posts.
Of course, these are the exact reactions this genre of content is crafted to elicit. We’re supposed to laugh, we’re supposed to sneer, and we’re supposed to feel grateful for the safety net cops provide us—there are so many crimes happening, these stories suggest, that some of them are even funny.
To that end, it’s jarring how dehumanizing these portrayals are—these videos fix the identity of “criminal” so thoroughly onto these people that it annihilates any other consideration about them and why they might be doing the things they do. Not everyone can carefully knead pizza dough into an unpunctured round, and not many people would voluntarily wear the same thin t-shirt to every occasion as fall dips into winter.
And trying weighing these “crimes” against what cops are doing when they get caught on camera—like getting audibly excited about the prospect of a race war, or committing heinous, deadly acts of brutality, or canvassing for Donald Trump, or tossing bottles of water to white supremacists or torpedoing the reputation they built as a basketball-loving “cool cop”… etcetera etcetera.
Blocked and Reported
On November 12, an anonymous police dispatcher resigned from the Williamstown Police Department in Williamstown, Massachusetts after they were placed on administrative leave for “inappropriate posts on social media that displayed racial bias.” Per the Berkshire Eagle, the posts were uncovered during a larger investigation of the “racial and sexual harassment” allegedly perpetrated by WPD’s police chief.
On November 13, David Pannell of the Byhalia Police Department in Byhalia, Mississippi was fired for making derogatory comments targeting Kamala Harris on Facebook, writing: “She will be an inspiration to young girls by showing if your sleep with the right powerfully connected men then you too can play second fiddle to a man with dementia.” (For a list of other cops disciplined for similar, check out my last newsletter.)
Also November 13, Stuttgart, Arkansas citizens called for the resignation of police chief Mark Duke for his post-election posts, one of which included him pledging proud allegiance to QAnon. (Great story on the cop-to-QAnon pipeline from Mother Jones here.)