Viral videos complicate North Texas police efforts to build bridges

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Even as North Texas police work to build bridges in the community, there is quiet acknowledgment that viral videos from halfway across the country make that effort more difficult. The latest is from Syracuse, New York.

“Images are very powerful,” said Alex Del Carmen, PhD, Criminology Professor at Tarleton State University, “and the impact that this will have on the community–on good cops that are trying to do a good job–that are going to be tainted by virtue of this portrayal of this one instance.”

The video, recorded by a bystander, has been viewed some six million times in a matter of days. It shows at least three Syracuse Police officers with a sobbing 8-year-old Black boy, hands restrained behind him as he’s put in a patrol car.  The stranger offers to pay for the $1 bag of chips he’s accused of stealing, but the bystander is met with hostility from another officer rather than de-escalation. 

“It’s huge,” agreed Dr. Del Carmen.  “And keep in mind, it is not only a local impact, or a nationwide impact, but it’s a global impact. You’re looking at people around the entire world looking at that video, scratching their heads and saying this is the way American law enforcement treats a child.”

Syracuse Police have since released body camera footage and insist that the child was never handcuffed or arrested, and that the officers were simply taking the child home. But social media rarely waits for context; people believe what they see.

“It takes four cops?” asked an incredulous Joshua from Dallas after viewing the video.  “This is why people fear the police.  Police have a public relations brand problem… and they don’t want to acknowledge that.”

And experts warn that the impact of fleeting images of police not at their best will make it more difficult to erase old stereotypes and convince communities, especially those of color, that officers should be viewed as allies instead of enemies.

“First impressions are everything,” said Professor Del Carmen, “and in this case, the first impression through social media says at all.”

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