The decision by a grand jury not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Staten Island man Eric Garner has sparked a lively Twitter discussion under the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite.
Twitter hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite, which became the top trending topic on Twitter Wednesday evening, is based on the widespread perception that police, and more broadly the US criminal justice system, treats people differently based on their race.
The conversation under #CrimingWhileWhite is providing insight into the perception among blacks and white sympathizers about what has been controversially termed “white privilege” and “racial profiling,” and how it is believed to affect the way police officers react to people based on their race.
Many Twitter users, especially white users, are using the hashtag to illustrate the subtle ways “white privilege” operates by describing their personal encounters with the law, with an emphasis on how their experiences differed significantly from the experience of Garner.
Vox notes that some of the tweets also referenced the case of the 12-year-old African-American Tamir Rice, who was shot dead while playing with a toy gun in a public park.
Below is a selection from the ongoing Twitter discussion under the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite, often laced with irony and sarcasm.
Let’s all remember that kid who killed people drunk driving and was too rich to jail. #CrimingWhileWhite #Affluenza
— Darren @zeebotter 30m30 minutes ago
#WhitePrivilege is being able to use a hashtag to admit to committing crimes and being applauded for bravery #CrimingWhileWhite
— rohanie @rohanie_ 1h1 hour ago
The Inquistr is unable to confirm the claims of brushes with the law by social media users. It is assumed that the claims were meant only to illustrate the racial bias of police officers in their handling of people who may or may not have committed a crime.
Eric Garner, a 400-pound asthmatic, died on July 17 after an encounter with police officers on Staten Island. The incident, captured on video, showed officers arresting the 43-year-old for selling unlicensed cigarettes.
Garner can be heard on video crying “I can’t breathe” multiple times as Officer Don Pantaleo held him in what appeared a chokehold.
MSNBC notes that many analysts have pointed to the significant difference in the tone of public reaction to the grand jury’s decision in Garner’s case, compared with the recent Ferguson shooting. There has been a convergence in opinion across the liberal-conservative ideological divide. There is a broad consensus that the decision of the grand jury was highly questionable. The convergence contrasts with the popular reaction to the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson over the fatal shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown.
The social media discussion that erupted in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision was intensely racially divisive.
Many African-Americans have expressed appreciation for the sympathetic tweets from their white counterparts, saying it helps draw attention to the problem of unequal treatment of blacks under the justice system.
#CrimingWhileWhite hashtag is making me tear up..It’s beautiful in its display of solidarity but it’s heartbreaking to see these disparities
— A. (@gawdduss) December 3, 2014
However, the concept of “white privilege” remains controversial, with fewer whites than blacks agreeing that being white confers significantly greater social privileges compared with ethnic minorities.
#CrimingWhileWhite is not the only hashtag trending on Twitter following Wednesday’s grand jury decision that Officer Pantaleo should not face charges in the death of Garner. Other trending hashtags include #Icantbreathe, #ericgarner, #Wehearyou and #DanielPantaleo.
[Image: Esaw Garner; Wikimedia Commons]