BBQ Beckie, Depressed Debbie, and Permit Patty rocketed to internet fame when they called the police on unsuspecting black people just trying to live their best Obama life. We’ve seen a disturbing trend of white people calling the police on black people in public spaces: BBQ Becky stayed on the phone over an hour to try to get a police response on what she thought was a park permit issue. Depressed Debbie called the police on black people at a pool who refused to talk to her. While their police-calling behavior is meme gold, the real-life trend of using police to enforce dominance is a dangerous game where black people have a history of being the loser.
This weekend Permit Patty called the police on a young girl selling water to baseball fans. When pressed, she admitted that she wasn’t really on the phone with the police and she was not concerned about the permit: she wanted the little girl to be quiet. So there it is. This white woman, like others before her, consciously purposefully used the threat of police–arrest and potential violence–against an 8-year-old little black girl in order to control a public space to her liking.
Permit Patty, outed as being Alison Ettel, who makes a living making medical marijuana for dogs without a permit–I shit you not, claims that race had nothing to do with her threat. But she lives in Oakland, the city of Oscar Grant and the Black Panthers and ground zero of Black Lives Matter. It’s certain that she knew the kind of threat calling the police on black people is and used that threat against a girl with a water stand. That’s the reason why she did it: to play terrorist to an 8-year-old she knew would be afraid of the police.
Permit Patty is the last in a continuous line of white people, who have used police to control black bodies–from slave catchers through Jim Crow to today’s police state. Sure we’ve come a long way from the bad old days of lynchings, right? Times were when False Accusation Fanny called rape on a black man the whole town of Rosewood went up in flames. Or the dozens of white women rendered nameless and blameless in history whose interactions with black people–from an exchange of letters to and exchange of look–resulted in one of the thousands of lynchings during Jim Crow.
But lynching–extrajudicial killing, or killing of one outside the law, especially based on group identity– continues. It continues in a variety of forms . Old school lynchings still pop up like unwanted blemishes across the south. A recent study of interracial crime confirms black people are more likely to be killed by white people than white people are likely to be killed by a black person. On top of that, the terror of extrajudicial police killing continues in the era of cell phone video. We find ourselves in 2018 with the boundaries between black and white as fraught as ever.
In the Black Lives Matter era, knowing that black people are frequently suffering violence at the hands of the police, these women play executioner for their own petty whims. Like the lynchings of the past, these police calls cannot be dismissed as misunderstandings or misspoken accusations. These women call fully expecting that the police will be on their side–literally relying on their white privilege for the situation to go their way even as they water the streets and later the airwaves with their tears.
If race is not a factor in these stories, then why are we not seeing a large number of videotaped events where white people inform on other white people? Since white people are the majority of the American population, it stands to reason that these incidents should overwhelmingly involve white people. But they don’t by and large involve white people informing on other white people at all. Hmmmm. Though to be sure, the police did show up in force to this young white boy’s permit-less lemonade stand
In 2013, George Zimmerman played both Permit Patty and the PD when he killed Trayvon Martin. Stephon Clark was seconds from safety when he was killed in his grandmother’s backyard. In the space in between lies hundreds of names of people killed because of a casual encounter with police. Think about that–calling black can result in death. All of these names, this pattern that infects our country’s soul all hangs in the balance when white people call the police on black people. Cars and cops with guns come, just like they did when black people sought to desegregate private businesses during the civil rights movement of the 60’s.
White people, I argue, know that interactions between black people and the police can be deadly and they call the police anyways. Afterward, full of apologies and sheepish excuses, they retreat behind their own ignorance, safe from consequences–and sometimes receiving coddling and forgiveness, ignoring their complicity in creating a potentially deadly encounter.
Let’s call these 911 calls what they are: preludes to a lynching. It’s time to hold people accountable for their racism. It’s time to admit that if you are calling the police because a person of color is making you nervous, being too quiet, being loud, or otherwise occupying public spaces then you may be okay with the death of that person by your word. Like the women who’s interactions and accusations led to lynchings under Jim Crow, refusal to acknowledge your privilege to activate state violence to protect you does not leave you innocent of a hate crime. Think about that before you call the police, or don’t be surprised when you get dragged by Twitter.