Viral videos are so common these days, there are entire websites dedicated to content that blazes to the top of the charts and then, just as abruptly, becomes old news. Sometimes the subject is so random it’s hard to understand why it would even capture anyone’s attention to begin with (queue viral video of puppy yawning). But last week, when a video of a Daiwon McPherson, a Black man in Mobile, Alabama, on his knees in front of police officers with their Tasers drawn lit up timelines, it was obvious why people were captured by it. Once again, a Black man was cornered, once again we might all watch as he’s treated like a common dog in front of onlookers and cameras. A scene we’ve become all too familiar with.
But after kneeling before police in submission, McPherson’s girlfriend, Shawna Blackmon intervened by placing herself between the police and Daiwon. After a few moments, Daiwon pulled out a ring and proposed. It was all a set up.
Of course the reaction over Daiwon and Shawna’s engagement was anything but congratulatory. McPherson said he’s been receiving extreme criticism as well as death threats since the video went viral — most of his critics coming from the Black community. Thousands bashed McPherson for mocking a situation that for too many Black men has turned deadly. But Daiwon insists he meant no disrespect. “I apologize if I offended anyone. I didn’t do this to make a mockery of anyone who has suffered. I just wanted to get the biggest reaction I could from her.”
But his motives weren’t just to shock and amaze, he was also thinking about his community. He told BET, “I also wanted to help break the tension between bikers and the police here.” McPherson refers to the long-standing conflict in Mobile between police officers and various biker groups in the area who have long been at odds, something Daiwon is no stranger to personally. In fact, Daiwon wasn’t simply creating some random police scene to draw a crowd, he was re-enacting a situation that actually happened to him.
Three years ago, Daiwon was at a stoplight on his motorcycle and unknowingly peeled out in front of the police, initiating pursuit. “I was running from the police at first but then just pulled over. I had Tasers pulled on me but the police saw I was cooperating so they just cuffed me.” McPherson recalls of his encounter with the Mobile Police Department.
In the end, McPherson says he has no regrets. Since the proposal, local police have reached out and asked him to join forces with them to help bridge the gap between bikers and police.
At the end of the day, Daiwon and Shawna’s viral proposal brought a moment of healing between the biker community in Mobile and the police. Although the media hyped them up to be ignorant and insensitive, the motive behind the act was actually quite endearing. But the narrative of turning a negative experience into something positive was somehow missing from the headlines.
The question that remains is this: Where is the line? Is there a difference between using police brutality to set up a surprise proposal and using it to sell a headline or a movie? There have been countless television shows and movies that have capitalized on images of Black struggle, police abuse and inner city crime. The long standing reality show COPS has been airing police altercations and arrests for entertainment purposes since the late '80s. These are real life accounts of actual arrests, some of them violent, that affect real lives and tear apart real families.
The danger of sensationalism is that it desensitizes us to images that would otherwise make us turn away. Daiwon’s proposal wouldn’t have even gone viral if people weren’t so intrigued by the arrest scene that they kept watching long enough to see it turn into a proposal.
It’s easy to pick apart something when it’s served to you in the form of a viral post on your social media timeline, to retweet it and assume the very worst of intentions without taking into consideration the environment that enabled it to exist in the first place. If we’re prepared to tear down Daiwon McPherson and Shawna Blackmon, we have to also be ready to criticize the other ways in which police brutality is spoonfed to us every day. Or, as a society, we can choose to see it for what it was — a poorly timed but well-intentioned proposal that unexpectedly went viral.
When asked what makes a good relationship last through the ups and downs, Daiwon and Shawna both agreed: “Loyalty. And forgiveness. Forgive and move on.”
Ashley Simpo is a writer and digital media strategist living in Brooklyn, New York. Originally hailing from Oakland, California, she is an advocate for women's equality and reproductive rights, housing rights and topics relating to the overall health of the Black community. She is a mother of one and fierce supporter to fellow writers of color.
(Photo: kali9/Getty Images)