-- Two hashtags with stories of alleged racial bias by police have gone viral in the wake of a decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a New York City police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner.
Each hashtag focuses on individual stories about how people say race has affected their interactions with police: #crimingwhilewhite has become a place for white people to recount stories of how they say they’ve gotten preferential treatment, while #Alivewhileblack focuses on stories from African-Americans or people of color who say they’ve experienced police harassment in their daily lives.
One white user tweeted that he was pulled by over by police for driving drunk but allowed to walk to a friend’s house without charges. In another, a white user said he was arrested for stealing street signs in high school but had probation waved because it would “interfere with drama club.”
These users did not immediately respond to ABC News to verify their stories.
“Criming while white” started picking up steam on Twitter just hours after the announcement Wednesday that no one would be charged in Garner’s death. Users started to post alleged stories of preferential treatment they tied to their race in an effort to show clear examples of their privilege.
As #Crimingwhilewhite started to climb up the Twitter Trend list, #Alivewhileblack began to pop up to show the flipside. In these stories, African-Americans or other people of color said they were harassed or treated like criminals for doing nothing more than “existing.”
Jamilah Lemieux, senior digital editor for Ebony magazine, said she thought the #crimingwhilewhite stories were well intentioned but left out key voices and were even upsetting to people who had experienced harassment.
“A lot of people felt triggered by it and was too painful to read,” Lemieux said. “All these recent police killings … after a while it didn’t feel appropriate” to read such stories.
Lemieux claims she started the #alivewhileblack hashtag, but ABC News has been unable to verify that. She said she has found the stories on the new hashtag “hard to read” but not surprising.
“I think it is important enough to note that your average white person can feel like the police are there to protect and serve them,” Lemieux said. “That is something that a black person cannot [often] lay claim to.”
The “alive while black” hashtag relates stories of people saying they’ve been questioned by police on their way to their university or workplace, or being profiled as a shoplifter at the store where they worked.
David Harris, a professor of law at University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on police conduct and accountability, said the rise of social media has made it easier for people to share personal stories of harassment and to draw the attention of larger media organizations towards a smaller or overlooked story. Harris said the two hashtags have given people a forum to respond to controversial or racially charged events.
“It’s understatement of the year that this is the difficult topic,” said Harris.
“But I think the fact that it is occurring and people are paying attention and watching,” is important, he said. “We don’t have these kinds of conversations often.” However, Harris said drawing attention to the issue isn’t the same as trying to change the problem.
“We shouldn’t mistake words for action,” Harris said. “How much does this translate to, not just to more tweets or posts or articles, but whether any of it translates into organizing and action on the ground?”
The International Union of Police Associations declined to comment and the National Association of Police Organizations did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.