By now you’ve probably seen this video of these Swedish Police Officers breaking up an alleged fight between two black men on an NYC subway car. AJ+, the digital news channel of the Al Jazeera Media Network, posted it on its Facebook page late Thursday evening and as of the time I published this post, it’s gotten over 12,000 combined likes and shares and over 300,000 views. The caption accompanying the video confidently asks: “Did these Swedish cops school the NYPD?”
I hate this video.
I hate this video mostly because I’m tired of seeing videos of black men and women, in varying levels of distress, being used to make what are intended to be, larger points about other things.
It’s like “Hey, let’s take a moment to appreciate how much better these foreign white guys are at handling savages than the white guys that typically handle the savages for us here in the U.S.”
For background, The New York Post reports that two homeless men were fighting on the train. Over the train’s speaker, the conductor asked if there were any police officers on board. These Swedish guys made their way to the front of the train to help out. They split the two men and subdued the alleged aggressor who, according to the Post “was screaming and resisting the Nordic heroes.”
AJ+ and all the other outlets who’ve followed suit in packaging this story and video as an opportunity to compare and contrast Swedish policing and New York City policing as click bait for those who support police reform, have completely missed the whole point of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that created this national conversation around police brutality.
What has made the #BlackLivesMatter movement so transformative and so galvanizing for the young men and women who’ve sustained it has been the centrality and simplicity of its core message. In a country that is, quite literally, built on negotiating, these young men and women have drawn a line in the sand and said that they will not compromise on acknowledging and internalizing the simple, inalienable fact that has for so long escaped our country’s collective consciousness – that black lives matter.
In holding up this video up as an example for the NYPD, AJ+ lost sight of the humanity of the black men on whose backs those Swedish officers drove their forearms and knees. Those black men matter. Their lives matter. They are more than any dispute they may have had with one another. To reduce them and their tribulation to a click-baity viral video about police brutality is to once again drive a knee and forearm into their back.
I’m sure these Swedish officers were well intentioned. I’m sure their goal was to deescalate a potentially dangerous situation. And one might be able to find something almost commendable about their actions if we looked hard enough. But, the part of this that makes my soul rumble is that I cannot fathom how a group of men, with no real relevant authority, can pin two other men to the ground, as one of them screams “I can’t breathe” and detain them, simply because they got into a fight. That is a freedom, a kind of privileged self righteousness I don’t think our world will ever allow black people to know.
One of the Swedish officers, Makrus Åsberg, who happens to have the whitest name in the history of the Earth, told the New York Post that he and his homies needed a beer and that “We’re no heroes, just tourists.” Then they all went on their merry way to see Les Misérables on Broadway.
“There are souls that, crablike, crawl continually toward darkness, going backward in life rather than advancing, using their experience to increase their deformity, growing continually worse, and becoming steeped more and more thoroughly in the intensifying viciousness”
“Using experience to increase deformity.”
“Growing continually worse.”
“Steeped more and more throughly in intensifying viciousness.”
Victor Hugo could have been talking about many of our American institutions when he wrote those words.
At least Makrus and I agree on one thing … they ain’t heroes. Next time you get into a fight on the train… watch out for crusaders caped in privilege… stay low and keep firing.