Earlier in the week, the New York Police Department had a brilliant idea. They decided to ask Twitter users to post pictures on their #MyNypd hashtag which depicted officers in a friendly posture with the citizenry. The idea was to cultivate the image of a modern day ″Officer Friendly,″ a mythic character from the 1950’s who saved kittens from drainpipes and who was a friend to children and adults everywhere he went. The kicker was to crowdsource the images so that the department couldn’t be seen as posting posed, canned images. The twitter response must have come to a shock to the NYPD.
Citizens responded with images of the police acting in decidedly unfriendly ways. One of the more popular themes was to post images of NYPD officers brutalizing peaceful protesters who only sought justice for what they perceived to be crimes against society perpetrated by Wall Street financiers. Many of the NYPD officers, those in white shirts, are on the payroll of Wall Street firms.
Voices from all over Manhattan and the outer boroughs came forth with tales of police rudeness, recklessness, and the fear they live with when NYPD officers are nearby. #MyNypd became a chronicle of woe in a free society. From the hashtag emerged a narrative of a people living under the thumb of arrogant bullies.
This is not a phenomenon unique to Manhattan or the greater New York City area, however. Police across the nation have become increasingly militaristic. In response, a small but growing section of the population is speaking out against this trend. In fact, a sister hasthag, #MyLAPD, has sprung up to offer Twitter users the opportunity to discuss their experiences with the Los Angeles, Calif. police.
Police departments nationwide seem to be experiencing a renaissance of brutality and militaristic tactics. The Portland, Oreg. police department (PPD) has been criticized for their harsh and discriminatory treatment of the African American community and they have been known to shoot first and ask questions later when approaching the mentally ill. It’s as though their training means nothing, and the motto ″protect and serve″ has no value. Under the former mayor, Sam Adams, Portland citizens were taking a tough stance against the PPD, but the current mayor has bowed to a culture of bullies and authoritarians.
Internet activism is nothing new. In fact, much of the Occupy Wall Street movement was facilitated over Twitter and other social media. When corporations have offered consumers the opportunity to create messages related to their product, a large swath of the public has taken that opportunity to mock the company and its products. Very frequently those satires are based in fact and the public relations job of the company is made that much more difficult.
It’s not surprising that #MyNYPD blew up in the face of the police. But it is a wake up call for those concerned about police malfeasance and brutality nationwide. Social media can be again used to consolidate the messages, images, stories, and facts about police departments from coast to coast. The Twitter response to the NYPD can serve as a model for communities everywhere. Just as the Occupy movement began so close to One Police Plaza, so, too, can this new tide of activism and accountability find its birthplace on the island of Manhattan.
Commentary By Hobie Anthony