CHICAGO – It’s both the greatest social justice opportunity and the worst privacy-gutting curse of our times: a high-powered video camera in nearly every human hand.
It’s up to us to know how to use it as a tool instead of a weapon.
A few weeks ago, a young woman graciously agreed to switch seats on an airplane with a fellow traveler named Rosey Blair, who wanted to sit next to her boyfriend.
Since no good deed goes unpunished, Blair and her boyfriend then turned the woman into an unwilling internet star when they decided the woman was hitting it off very well with her new seatmate. For fun, Blair took photos and audio recordings of the two from the row behind, giving them cute nicknames and creating a story about their supposed mid-air courtship via tweets during the whole flight.
Days later, after #PlaneBae became a viral sensation, the young woman released a statement pleading to be left alone: “Without my knowledge or consent, other passengers photographed me and recorded my conversation with a seatmate. They posted images and recordings to social media, and speculated unfairly about my private conduct. Since then, my personal information has been widely distributed online. Strangers publicly discussed my private life based on patently false information. I have been doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed. Voyeurs have come looking for me online and in the real world.”
Clearly, private people have the right to not be surreptitiously recorded and photographed without their consent when they’re doing nothing more than peacefully minding their own business.
To bored people who want to garner re-tweets and “likes” on their social media accounts by posting images of someone just living their lives – not to mention simply being human by struggling with some simple task or slipping on the sidewalk – please just stop.
However, there is also a substantial upside to ubiquitous, internet-enabled cameras in every pocket: swift justice in the face of racism, bigotry and hate-fueled violence.
Video of law enforcement harming unarmed African-Americans fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and video of everyday citizens attempting to police black people has led, in several instances, to perpetrators of everyday racism eventually seeing the error of their ways.
For instance, over the Fourth of July holiday, a video went viral of a white man questioning a black woman and her daughter about whether they were allowed in the pool of a North Carolina private community, where the black family lived.
The video of the confrontation was posted on Facebook and viewed more than 4 million times. As a result, the man was forced to resign from his homeowner’s association board and was fired from his job because his employer wanted to send a strong message that the situation didn’t reflect the company’s values.
Also on the Fourth of July, a 91-year-old Mexican man was savagely beaten by an African-American woman with a brick. The elderly man had gone on his daily walk near his relatives’ home in Los Angeles. After he bumped into the woman’s daughter, she attacked him with a brick, telling him to “Go back to your country.”
The man’s bleeding face and shocked reaction was caught on heart-wrenching video by a witness who was also able to get a photo of the alleged attacker. The assailant has since been charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
In mid-June, in a Chicago park, a white man verbally assaulted a Hispanic woman wearing a Puerto Rico T-shirt as she was setting up a picnic area for her own birthday party. He demanded to know if she was a citizen and declared she “should not be wearing that in the United States of America” – all while a uniformed forest preserve police officer, where the incident occurred, watched without intervening.
Again, it was caught on video and shared on the internet, resulting not only in the man getting slapped with felony hate-crime charges, but also with the officer who stood idly by resigning his post.
We are living in a time when people see how our president treats people and subsequently feel empowered to act hatefully, to racially profile and to harm those they feel aren’t white enough or American enough for their taste.
The video cameras in our pockets are an excellent check on those base instincts.
To recap: Be a good citizen and mind your own business in peaceful situations.
But if you encounter cruelty in public, please help the victim by documenting it – use your phone camera for the higher purpose of protecting the vulnerable and bringing the hateful to justice.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @estherjcepeda. Copyright, Washington Post Writers Group.