Mar 10

40 Futures: v1.02 Duped

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Jason Tashea
40 vignettes about the future of criminal justice.
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40 Futures is a speculative fiction series about the criminal justice system.

Duped

It had been three days since Timothy Diallo was shot by police. Three days of grief, protest, and tear gas.

The public’s vitriol was focused on the police headquarters downtown. In its vicinity, apartment building entrances, restaurants, and even the computer store with its all glass facade were now plywood, tagged with jagged lettering and black silhouettes of Timothy on white paper. The headquarters was barricaded, but those inside awaiting trial could still hear the muffled cries of protestors. 

No one had been arrested for the 23 yearold’s murder. The bystander footage was unequivocal, though. Three nights ago, Timothy, visibly distraught and agitated, was yelling in a fourplex parking lot, walking in circles. He had a knife. As officers pulled up, they pinned him in and drew their weapons. Timothy’s neighbors bore witness from balconies and the lawn as he lunged toward the squad cars. The video picked up gasps from onlookers all too sure of what they were about to see. Calls for him to drop the knife came from behind the flashing lights. 

“I can’t do that, man,” Timothy can be heard yelling, trying to hold back tears. Eyes glassy, his face was twisted.

Timothy strained to make out the faces of the officers yelling, like a child unable to makeout his parents in the audience at a school play. Just then, two thunderclaps came from behind the patrol cars. Timothy slumped to the ground, the knife bounced on the concrete. Among the shrieks and crying, one bystander yelled, her voice cracking, “You killed him! You didn’t have to kill him.”

The protests were international news, just as Ferguson, Baltimore, and Minneapolis had been years before. Videos of young people protesting Timothy’s death inundated social media. So did images of the police, who preached, but did not practice, restraint. The mayor came to speak the second night, while promoting calm and peaceful protest he was drown out by the pulsing and increasingly aggressive chants of “Fuck you, May-or.” 

On the third night, the protest had grown and the energy intensified. The hamfisted response from the city and the media coverage of the first two nights pulled otherwise apathetic people out of their homes and into the streets. As the sun set, thousands of people milled about the swollen park facing the police headquarters. The crowds’ aggitation increased during that hot and humid night, led by an impassioned speaker who artfully laid out decades of injustice met with an unrequited response. The late summer sun was setting, and people’s impotent frustration was begining to boil over.

That’s when the crowd’s phones went off. It was the city’s emergency alert system warning that an area fifteen blocks away should be avoided. There had been another “officer involved shooting.”

The speaker wasted no time mobilizing the pent up irritability of those assembled.

Seen from above, the park drained like a burst pipe as people ran with their homemade signs fluttering behind them, like samaras caught in a draft. Arriving on the scene from the south, protestors saw police lights coming closer from the north, but there were no cops, no crowd, no body to avoid where the alert system warned. Confusion and conspiracy swept through the crowd. 

The alert was a spoof, a false flag, an opportunity to sow chaos from a malevolent actor–and it had done its job. The police, responding to the same notification, drew closer to a distrustful, angry crowd tired of waiting for answers.

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Links from the podcast commentary

The new "spoofing" scam: national emergency alerts. (Assoc. of American Universities)

What went wrong with Hawaii’s false emergency alert. (CNN)

Hawaii governor didn’t correct false missile alert sooner because he didn’t know his Twitter password. (Washington Post)

“Chaos is the point”: Russian hackers and trolls grow stealthier in 2020. (New York Times)