There's a genre of YouTube video that used to fascinate me but nowadays simply makes me cringe.
I'll call this genre "Know Your Rights" videos. In them, young white men will turn their dashcams or phone cameras on during a routine traffic stop usually when pulling up to a border crossing or another sort of police blockade. When questioned by the authorities ("Where are you going?" "What brings you out here today?" "Are you carrying any goods with you?"), these almost-always-young, almost-always-white, almost-always-men will respond with some variation on the refrain, "Am I being detained?"
The purpose of this refrain is ostensibly to show their audiences (and some of these videos have hundreds of thousands of views) how to speak with police officers. By rights, these people have no obligation to answer any of the questions. And yes, at the end of the day, asking "Am I being detained?" is a fair question to ask. The videos usually then go in two different ways: on the one hand, the police officers may get somewhat testy. They might say something along the lines of "Yes," or, "I'll ask the questions." Ultimately, an escalation of about one notch. On the other hand, they might go in the completely opposite direction and actually praise the videographers. "You guys are smart. Get going." "Thank you for knowing your rights. Have a nice one."
Ultimately these videos in and of themselves are harmless. But placed in a larger context, and when compared to videos of authority figures murdering young Black men during similar stops, they become deeply troubling.
Let's imagine a non-white person taking the earlier tactic. A police officer asks the videographer to roll the window down. The young non-white person responds, "Am I being detained?" What happens next? Which of the two paths mentioned above will the video go down? A slight escalation? Praise? Or will the videographer become another name-turned-hashtag?
This morning I watched Philando Castile die in his car after being shot for owning a gun legally and following the proper procedure of informing the police officer of its existence and location. A year ago almost to the date I watched Sandra Bland pulled from her car after complying with the police officer who pulled her over. And countless others. Countless.
We call this latter genre of video many things. Evidence. Rallying cry. Focal point. The spark the lights the powder keg. Let's call them what they really are: The Double-Standard staring us right in the face. The irrefutable proof that in this country, Black Lives Don't Matter. If they did, there would be videos of young Black men asking police officers "Am I being detained?" and getting pat on the back for it instead of shot in the stomach.
Gun advocates love to argue that gun ownership is the most American thing you can possibly do. Having a gun is your duty as a citizen of these United States, they'll say, and complying with all laws therein is as patriotic as anything you can do. It is as a direct result of this rhetoric that a sub-genre of the Know Your Rights videos exists. You know the ones. The ones where a group of white men walk down a public street carrying assault rifles and brandishing their permits like badges of honor. The ones in which no one dies.
Let's imagine a young Black man walking down the street carrying an assault rifle legally. What would happen?
Fuck it. We don't have to imagine it.
Philando Castile was shot and killed for owning a weapon and being Black. His girlfriend filmed the incident not to prove a point, but instead to protect herself. The young white men in the Know Your Rights videos? They don't need protection. They know they already have it. The laws that protect them are the same ones that killed Philando.