I watch too many YouTube videos for a person my age. I’m prone to following Twitter wars from the sidelines and staying to see the bitter end. And—okay—I once went on a Facebook search for someone who took me to a school dance. In 1968.
To ease my guilt, I remind myself that I don’t watch anything violent or completely useless. I’ve never fallen down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole, or “done my own research” on vaccines. But I waste too much time, the one thing I really can’t squander. Once in a while, though, I find a gem online, and I’m forgiven. That’s what happened today.
He is a Black man, about 30, telling his camera what happened as he was driving alone in his expensive new car with temporary license plates. As soon as he heard a siren and saw the police officer behind him, he pulled over. “No big deal,” he says, “happens all the time.” He means, of course, that it happens to people who look like him, but not to the white woman who is about to enter his story.
He’s told to wait on the sidewalk while the cop finds out if the man really owns the car. This takes a while, and as he looks idly around, he spots her.
She’s a gray-haired woman who’s parked across the street, holding her phone up, recording from her side window. He and the woman make eye contact, and she gives him a thumbs up. But she doesn’t move and she doesn’t put her phone down.
“It came to me all at once,” he says in his video. “I have an ally! That old lady over there is watching out for me. She wants to make sure I’m okay.” When the officer finally tells him he’s free to go, he waves to the woman and gets in his car. Only then does she pull away.
It’s a small story, I agree, but these days little stories have a way of taking on much more, often without warning. I watched his video twice and wondered about myself, if I had been that woman who just happened to be in that place at that time. Would I have done that?
I come from a long line of people who paid a premium for staying in our own lane. My grandmother was famous for telling me, “Mind your own business, and for God’s sake, stop trying to change the world. It doesn’t work.” Now I’m as old as she was when she gave me that advice. She would have called it courtesy to avert your eyes. Today, it’s just the opposite.
Maybe, for a second, as that woman pulled her car over and hit record, she thought twice about intruding on a stranger’s life. Maybe she worried the situation would escalate and she’d be in danger. But she did it anyway.
Darnella Frazier was taking her cousin out for snacks that evening in Milwaukee. She could have kept walking when she saw George Floyd lying on the ground. The cops even yelled at her to stop recording. She did it anyway.
Maybe my chance will come, too. I’m sure I’ll hear my grandmother’s voice in my ear, whispering, “You can’t change the world.” But I’ll do it anyway. Because you never know anymore.