In May of 2018, a Facebook Live video filmed by Yale student Lolade Siyonbola went viral. The incident, known as “Napping While Black,” became a subject of international attention. The video also featured fellow Yale student Sarah Braasch, who has decided to start a YouTube channel to tell her side of the story.
An excellent example of how this incident was portrayed to the public can be seen in an article titled “Why white people keep calling the cops on black Americans.” The article was published by Vox in May, 2018. The article, written by Vesla Mae Weaver, is subtitled “I study policing. White people call cops to remove black people because it often works.”
Per the article, “Vesla Mae Weaver is the Bloomberg distinguished associate professor of political science and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. She is the co-author of Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control; Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics; and The Young Can Remake Race in America.”
In this article, Weaver discusses incidents where encounters with police and black people go terribly wrong, and there is no doubt this happens far too often. Weaver has had “hundreds of conversations in communities across the country” and finds that the “gulf between how black America and white America experience the police is vast.”
Weaver then turns to the story of Braasch as a good example of “the reality that white people have the power to turn minor disputes, or their own anxiety, into interventions by the police (which is hardly news in the black community).”
Weaver makes a powerful and convincing case regarding the maltreatment of black Americans in encounters with the police. Her thesis is not in question.
What is in question is using Braasch as an example of how “white people use law enforcement to exert control over their fellow black Americans.” Weaver continues: “The use by a white student at Yale to evict a fellow black student from a common area in a dorm is notable for how the police responded to each student. The video shows plainly that the white caller was not questioned about her purpose in calling 911; she was not asked for ID, let alone detained. The police seemed wholly uninterested in her. They seemed oblivious to the possibility that she made a false report or was motivated by bias regarding who belonged in ‘her’ space.”
(Fact check: Sarah Braasch did not call 911—she called the non-emergency number for the campus police. Braasch was also required to present an I.D. and was questioned once for 11 minutes, and again for 7 minutes. This was approximately equal to the amount of time police spent with Siyoban.)
Weaver continues: “The Yale student was not, as far as we know, attempting to thwart police from discovering her own wrongdoing. But her enlistment of police was racially strategic, meant to marshal existing stereotypes of blacks to reconfigure her space and dispense with a black person. It fits a societal algorithm that blackness itself is suspect.”
But is Weaver using the Braasch incident as a stereotype herself? Is she placing Braasch in the stereotypical role of the white person trying to remove a black woman from her space?
We have no evidence this is true, although Siyoban states in an interview with Harvard Current dated May 11, 2018: “I know with absolute certainty that if I was white 1) the police would not have been called,” she said, “and that 2) if they were, I would not have been detained for nearly 20 [minutes] for absolutely no reason.”
Weaver even speculates that Braasch will become a serial cop caller now that she has had such success maintaining “control of white space, to retaliate against black people for violating unspoken racial codes.”
On May 29, 2018, Weaver added the following correction to her story:
“Update (5/29): Yale’s Director of Office of Public Affairs and Communications, Thomas Conroy, sent a police report to Vox that states that Yale police checked the caller’s ID and questioned her about the call. This piece interprets the police interaction based on the available video evidence, which was recorded and posted online by the napping student.”
This is an extremely important point as you follow Braasch on her YouTube channel. The sole evidence for the complex societal analysis presented by Vesla Mae Weaver is a video posted online.
In light of the recent debacle featuring the students at Covington Catholic School, an edited video shared without context, it is time we become more skeptical of viral videos and the monstrous and destructive mobs that often follow.
Here is Sarah Braasch’s introductory video: