Cell Phone: A Tool for Justice

One of countless Internet memes of #BBQBetty

We take our cell phones with us everywhere we go from the bathroom where they entertain us while we’re doing our business—so much for the magazines or used books once occupying a within reach wicker basket—to church where instead of listening to the sermon we’re recording the deacon dozing off behind the pulpit. Cell phones have become another extremity, a connection to the body as close to skin as skin itself, and this isn’t going to change any time soon. Those in the driver’s seat of technology are being paid big bucks to keep us stuck, phone in hand with our heads down losing touch with reality. It’s a sad reality. Yet it is this very gadget that has become a vehicle for justice.

A part of me doesn’t even want to mention the word racism, and not because I feel it doesn’t exist, but because it does exist. I mean, come on folks. It is a bit overkill day in and day out dealing with, discussing, and trying to navigate the injustices behind racism in the United States. Every day there is something taking place in the news that brings us right back to the start: ain’t nothing changed, so now what?

How about cell phones? If the justice system is a failed system and white privilege is here to stay, then the era of the cell phone as master has to whip things into shape, and that is exactly what’s happening, albeit slowly and inconsistently, but happening still. What am I talking about? I’m talking about what many are now capturing by way of their phones. Video after video exposing what was once “your word against mine”—where the person of color was destined to lose—and forcing action, forcing those behind the unnecessary acts of what are truly non-issue matters, to accept their fate, i.e. consequences for their actions.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “#BBQ Becky,” a name stamped onto Jennifer Schulte, the white woman who was hanging out at Lake Merritt in Oakland and decided to call the police on some black folks who started to barbecue. Or maybe you’ve seen the many memes that were created where an image of Schulte calling the police was inserted into various times throughout events of black history, from reporting Rosa Parks to black people having a dream. I mean the Internet went in hard, but how? The cell phone. A woman recorded the event on her cell phone, uploaded the video and that was all she wrote. Had this not happened no one would be the wiser. It would have been that thing that you heard about via word of mouth that eventually trailed off into nowhere, a sort of, Girl, you should have been there, type of situation. Thanks to the cell phone we were all there and now Schulte is left to face herself in the mirror.

But wait!

This type of behavior neither started nor stopped with BBQBecky. Nope. Most recently a woman in San Francisco decided to call the police on an eight year old girl who was selling bottled water on a hot day, because she didn’t have a permit. Introducing #PermitPatty. We’re kidding, right? I mean do the children in the suburbs selling lemonade have permits? I’ll wait. Oh, and don’t let this distract you from the fact that this same woman, Alison Ettel, is a seller of weed. No, she is not bagging it in clear baggies and pulling up to your car in an incognito kind of way, but yes, she’s in the nicely decorated and neatly packaged marijuana business. I can’t help but be curious, was marijuana legal when she first dabbled? I mean, did she inhale? Again, I’ll wait. And again, how did we come to know this and respond? It was recorded and uploaded and, as a result, Ettel has opened her eyes to a new day inside of a reality she didn’t imagine the day before. She’s now going to spend some time picking herself up from her own doing. I just want to know what it is about black people living their lives that causes some white people to push the panic button and call the police. Once upon a time no one wanted to live in Oakland except black people, but now that it is being gentrified white people are moving in and policing blacks out. It’s an epidemic.

The list goes on and on where white people have called the police on black people basically for existing. You’ve got a nap in the commons at Yale, some black men talking in Starbucks, and kids wearing hoodies walking down the street. You name it, black people are experiencing it, because some folks are in racist relationships with 911.


You’re not helping. This isn’t the way of change. You are destroying lives and families, and now because of our extra layer of skin known as the cell phone, your livelihood as well, because recording your behavior has become the only way of justice; otherwise it’s just us while you live happily ever after. Something has to give. We need to learn how to share space, time, and tables. We have to find our sameness instead of external differences. We have to cultivate a country of inclusivity and compassion, and not the dismantling of a people or group.

This cannot be sustained. This cannot be the America of hope, liberty and justice for all. Until we become an evolved bunch, I want to encourage us to continue recording, to continue documenting and exposing these injustice—of all kinds and across all groups—because this is our current path of that journey of a thousand miles. Keep stepping.

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