Opinion: ‘Jawn Wick’ and North Philly neighbors’ response to the police standoff

In a world where unarmed black men are shot down by law enforcement for simply existing, Maurice Hill’s story has all the makings of a fable.

While Hill was engaged in a standoff with police that injured several officers and resulted in his eventual surrender, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were awash with memes and skits. The jokes ranged from Grand Theft Auto references to “Jawn Wick” memes depicting Keanu Reeves adorned in a kufi and sporting a full beard — a Philly black male stereotype.

Many of those spread via Philly Scoop Hall, one of the top gossip Instagram pages in the city. Honestly, describing the account that boasts 113k followers as a gossip page would not fully encompass all the content it collects and produces.

The page’s usual fare includes fashion fails, up and coming rappers who’ve amassed a large groundswell, promotions for local businesses, and skits and memes from area comedians.

But often the videos and images on the page take a more serious tone. People go there to see police brutality that hasn’t made its way to the mainstream media or protests supporting criminal justice reform. And in the case of this past Wednesday, the shootout between Hill and Philadelphia police officers near 15th Street and Erie Avenue.

That area is a vibrant and heavily populated black neighborhood in North Philly. An area where folks are often out on the block chatting with friends and neighbors. It was a nobrainer that footage from the hours-long ordeal would end up on Philly Scoop Hall.

The first video appeared around 5 p.m., less than an hour after the initial police response, and the collection continued to grow.

One of the videos published on the page depicted officers being shoved, screamed at, antagonized and physically assaulted. Eventually, Fox29 picked up the video and published a news item describing the event. Instead of offering an analysis of the altercation, Fox29 included a disparaging viral tweet from a self-described MAGA supporter. CBS3 correspondent also Alexandria Hoff tweeted her disappointment at the fact that community members decided to taunt the officers.

Unlike Hoff, when I first saw the controversial video appear on Philly Scoop Hall, I held no feelings of disappointment. More importantly, in no way was I surprised by the reaction of the community members.

I’m from Philly. I grew up less than a mile from the incident in question. My lived experiences and the lived experiences of my peers have helped to inform my understanding of systemic racism and police relations within black communities. It helped to inform my understanding of the community backlash.

Simply put, many of us just don’t trust the cops.

What seems like disregard for law enforcement in that video and the Jawn Wick memes was in fact a coping and defense mechanism. Often our only power in a white-dominated society is our resilience — sometimes that resilience takes the form of comedy.

Black folks in Philly have been victims of unlawful stop and frisk, detainment, and assault at the hands of the PPD. On Wednesday, Hill reversed the tables and put the target we usually carry on the backs of the officers.

I would liken the response of the community members accused of taunting to the disenfranchised citizens of Sherwood Forest and their reception of Robin Hood. Albeit dangerously and unintentionally, in a way that should not be held up as a model to follow, Hill empowered a small group of black folks on Erie Avenue to engage officers in an indirect act of retribution.

In the face of decades of police brutality, what weight does a shoulder bump or a thrown bottle actually carry?

Again, I was not surprised by the actions of this small minority. In black communities, cops often are viewed as an ominous and abusive presence. Maurice Hill, Jawn Wick, or whatever you call him is now and forever a legend in black Philly lore. In an hours-long shootout with police, he managed to come out alive.

Philly folks are known for being a brash and direct bunch who wear our hearts on our sleeves — and this includes black folks as well, not just the Rocky Balboa types.

We too need the space to hold opinions that are not always nested with kindness. Most importantly, we require respect. Respect for how we share and distribute media. Respect for how we react in stressful environments — circumstantial and situational. Above all else, we require respect for our humanity in all its glory and flaws.