Mimesis Law
22 January 2017

True Commitment to the Mannequin Challenge

December 9, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Never underestimate the tremendous draw of looking cool on social media. As some guys in Alabama have just shown us, though, there can sometimes be undesirable criminal justice consequences that come with gaining the respect of your peers when you kill it with cutting edge online trends:

A gun-wielding Mannequin Challenge video led to the arrest of two men and the seizure of several firearms and marijuana at a north Alabama home.

The video, which shows several people in still poses holding guns, led Madison County Sheriff’s investigators to serve a search warrant at 5012 Powell Drive N.W. in Huntsville around 5 a.m., said Capt. Mike Salomonsky.

Admittedly, I had to consult Wikipedia to see what the Mannequin Challenge is. If you’re like me and don’t already know, people basically just freeze in elaborately staged scenes while someone walks around recording them.

Sound stupid? It might, but some of them require a lot of planning and effort. Think 21st century Tableaux Vivants. But sometimes, maybe, with guns. And sometimes involving people who may not be legally allowed to possess guns.

Even then, the video that led to those arrests is sort of impressive:

It’s no surprise a lot of people took notice:

The video has been shared nearly 86,000 times since it was posted to Facebook on Nov. 9.

It’s also no surprise that some people who took notice were alarmed by it, but there are both understandable and upsetting reasons for that. The fact the video says, “Some Viewers May Find This Offensive,” highlights some major upsetting reasons.

Do you think it’d get a warning like that if it was white teenagers in Exeter uniforms doing the same thing in the manicured lawns in front of their palatial homes? Would people assume the guns are real? Would they assume there’s something illegal about white people possessing weapons?

There was no staged blood or gore or nudity. The whole scene is tame compared to things a little kid could see flipping on broadcast television any time, day or night. It’s offensive to many because it’s black guys with guns. It sucks that the people in the video might have been up to no good. It’s validation for those who will continue to get offended and call the police anytime they see black people with guns.

On the other hand, it’s also worrisome that, if these guys really were illegally possessing drugs and guns at that house, they clearly weren’t the least bit on the police radar. Knowing these guys might be drug dealers with real guns paints the whole scene in a more a sinister light even if you aren’t a huge fan of drug prohibition. They were perhaps portraying a violent confrontation that might actually happen. That’s true whether you blame our drug laws or the people involved for that, and there are certainly innocent people in that neighborhood.

The people involved went to significant lengths to stage that video in broad daylight, and those lengths may have included crimes. They did it all without a single cop or concerned citizen taking notice. It’s maybe good that police aren’t constantly canvassing every neighborhood, but the fact they could make that video gives you a good idea about the thinness of the veneer of government protection. It took tens of thousands of Facebook views of a public video portraying a fictitious rendering of illegal conduct people might actually be engaging in before authorities took notice, after all.

In the end, though, it’s notable that only two guys were charged:

Those arrested are Kenneth Fennell White, 49, and Terry Brown, 23.

White is charged with first-degree possession of marijuana and possession of a firearm by a violent felon. He is being held in the Madison County Jail with bail set at $30,000.

Brown is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and loitering. Once he was taken to the jail, authorities found marijuana in his possession and added a charge of promoting prison contraband. His bail is set at $3,800.

Brown’s charges seem minor bordering on pointless, and White’s may not be nearly as bad as they sound.

If this really was a den of gun-toting drug dealers and they only went after the two worst, the best charges they could find for Brown were paraphernalia? When they’ve caught a guy red-handed running a serious illegal drug operation, they often don’t waste the ink to include a charge as silly as loitering at all. Plus, it seems pretty obvious that the prison contraband charge was the result of Brown having some weed and, when confronted with the choice of whether to volunteer that he had it or to wait and see if they noticed booking him into jail, choosing the latter.

White’s situation sounds more serious, but first-degree possession of marijuana (or “unlawful possession of marihuana in the first degree,” as they actually call it) covers any possession not for personal use or anyone who’s been caught with it before. Possession of a firearm by a violent felon is even more misleading, as the definition of “[c]rime of violence” in Alabama includes “the distribution or manufacture of a controlled substance.” White might’ve gotten busted for selling a bit of weed in the past, and all of a sudden he’s looking at some serious-sounding charges for what might not have been such a big deal at all.

What’s interesting about all of this is that, even though these guys might’ve been breaking the law and we can all marvel about the stupidity of a couple of them getting busted for publicizing it, they were doing something creative and interesting.

Very few people are one-dimensional. These guys may be innocent people just having fun, guys who fell victim to a bunch of easily-alarmed folks calling the cops because they saw black guys with guns. They also may be a bunch of guys who sell drugs, think guns and shootouts are cool, and may or may not have it in them to go through with something like what they portrayed in real life. They might be evil incarnate too, or anything in-between these examples.

At this point, all we truly know is that they were committed to the Mannequin Challenge. Really, really committed.

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