When corporate and police misdeeds go viral
Activist Post

It’s over. Write finale to the standard way that businesses in the service industry and members of the law enforcement agencies have conducted and protected themselves for generations, relying on thickets of regulations, common practices and establishment safety nets.

Technology has ended the game.  You can no longer “call security” on your home phone or “figure it out in the privacy of the police station,” as one policeman put it.  The smart phone and technological realities from pocket listening devices to street videos to earbuds have undone law enforcement’s traditions for keeping the community controlled.  Complaints that previously were swept under the rug are blowing up into hurricanes.

That infamous United Airlines video April 10 – of a customer being dragged out of his seat by three security personnel simply to accommodate seat-less United employees – is only one notorious example.  It led to apologies and a financial settlement — but other videos have emerged since.  On May 4, Delta was in the hot seat for trying to bounce a 2-year old from a seat his parents had paid for.  Wait a day, each video will be replaced by another.

For decades both businesses and law enforcement agencies have felt legally protected in their behavior toward customers and citizens, but the law is changing beneath their feet. The power of a video to go viral, or one Facebook customer’s unhappiness to spread, or millions of voices to chime in on Twitter– all are creating havoc at airports, stores, squad patrols, media outlets, complaints departments, sports events and, of course, almost every event the Trump administration concocts.

Technology can claim having spawned (or at least galvanized) the Black Lives Matter and other movements with thousands of video examples of how police conduct raids, traffic stops and casual encounters. Even Jeff Sessions can’t halt the parade of evidence.

From church patrons who called the police on a scroungy worshipper with a backpack, to the black NBA player whose shopping drew police to a suburban jewelry store (which happened in Milwaukee), to the cop who gives a suspect that one extra cuff on the head – all are an image away from exposure and ridicule.

The mall used to tell employees to just pick up the phone and call security if you can’t handle a complainer. No longer.  Police could count on their buddies or the courts to protect them. No more.

Private security agencies and customer relations divisions are realizing how poorly they  have been trained for this technological explosion. The unforeseen consequences (the force majeure as the French say) have taken over and are in charge.

The issue of how  businesses should cope is being studied at universities.  Tech and financial  companies are re-evaluating how their own workers are scrutinized and what “customer satisfaction” now  entails. Missives two decades old warning of the impact of  new media are being dusted off. Consumers are expressing outrage in novel ways at the fact that Congress and the president so cavalierly signed away their Internet privacy and merchandising rights.

Even law enforcement that had been learning to cope with the tech reality and the backlog of misconduct, with their local city leaders supporting such improvements as body cameras, have been slapped on the side of the head. Sessions, the federal attorney general,  bluntly withdrew DOJ support for such policies,  saying scrutiny could “diminish police effectiveness” and adding “we’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”

Neither the local mall nor Sessions can put the genie back in the bottle.  Civilization is abandoning ancient establishment practices because consumers by the millions are waking up through this technology to expectations and common decency they have thrown away.

And it’s only beginning. Companies are on warning — and so should Sessions be — to stop acting with a degree of authority reminiscent of the “rights of kings.”


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, milwaukeelabor.org. He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.