The Worst Possible Way to Talk About Racial Profiling

You’ve probably seen this little video by TrueStoryASA, which appears to depict vloggers Adam Saleh and Sheikh Akbar, being stopped and frisked by an NYPD officer who appears to be racially profiling them.

The vloggers “prove” that the cop is profiling them by conducting a little experiment: they pass him twice, arguing both times. The first time, they are dressed in Western clothes and yelling at one another in New York accents. Although the fight grows physical, the cop does nothing to stop them or pull them apart. Twenty minutes later, they pass him again, still fighting, but this time they are wearing Middle Eastern clothing and speaking in Arabic accents. This time, even they are not as physically violent to one another, they are stopped by the police officer, forced to stand against the wall, and forcefully patted down. A conveniently passing stranger protests that they weren’t doing anything. The cop threatens to arrest him for obstruction.

It seems like the perfect demonstration of police profiling going awry. The one problem? The video is a fake.

Saleh and Akbar staged the entire thing, apparently in an attempt to go viral. Although I wish I could assume the best intentions and believe that their video was simply misinterpreted, the “heartfelt” message at the end of the video makes this impossible. The pair claim, at the end of the clip, that they got these results after only one try. They ask their followers to help spread their message: that racial profiling is both common and awful.

The thing that makes this incident very upsetting to me is that I definitely do agree with Saleh and Akbar on their core message. Racial profiling can have disastrous consequences for victims; the events in Ferguson this summer gave us ample proof of that. However, by pretending to be victims when they were not, the vloggers have gravely disrespected those people who have truly been impacted by racism and police brutality. Additionally, they have hurt the two causes that they were trying to help: first, they have made it seem as though people who complain about police brutality are exaggerating or lying, and second, they have given ammunition to those people who say that Islamaphobia was invented by Muslims in order to get special treatment. When you lie to make a statement, you cannot be surprised when people assume that those who fall in line with your statement are also liars. Therefore, by making and lying about this video, they have hurt some very important causes.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, told us that, “You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise.” This is extremely important; you get to righteousness through the truth. That means that no matter how good your intention is, you should try and reach it through truth, rather than deception.

Racial profiling is a real issue. It may be that Saleh and Akbar sincerely wanted to bring attention to it and they felt that this fake viral video would be the best way to accomplish that. However, if we understand that it is truth which takes us to righteousness, we must understand that their approach was all wrong. It is isn’t simply the “what” that matters, but the “how” matters, too. You can’t just make up proofs to prove your point, no matter how vital your point might be.

After an NYPD internal investigation, the pair were caught. In capitulation, they changed the description of the video on Youtube. The description now clarifies that the clip is merely a “dramatization.” This is a step in the right direction. However, in order to fully correct their mistake, I think that they should take the video down and replace it with another one, this time with a clearer end message. Otherwise, people will continue to view the original video, furthering their deception.

We have a powerful tool in the Internet. We have a chance to share opinions and impact lives in a way that was unthinkable not too long ago. I can therefore understand the desire to use that path to combat things such as racial profiling and Islamophobia, which devastate countless lives. However, TrueStoryASA went about it in the very worst way possible. Racism is ignorance. We must fight that ignorance with truth, not lies.