Police Protester on Whiteness in Black Movement, Media, Alleged Abuse of Wife

A screen capture of the moment before a Denver motorcycle officer tipped over during a police protest last week. Photos, videos and more below.
A screen capture of the moment before a Denver motorcycle officer tipped over during a police protest last week. Photos, videos and more below.
Jesse Benn via YouTube

Last week, we told you about a protest in Denver over alleged police misconduct in Baltimore and beyond at which eleven people were arrested.

At the time, we noted the large disparity between accounts of what happened from the Denver Police Department, which saw its officers' actions as restrained and professional, and many protesters, who accused the DPD of unjustified and allegedly abusive behavior.

Now, demonstrator and videographer Jesse Benn has sent us footage that, in his view, shows a Denver motorcycle officer whose bike tipped over wasn't actually pushed by a protester. The incident  immediately preceded some of the roughest treatment of the entire event; see the footage here.

Benn also shared the material with CBS4 — and he and his wife, Jessica Benn, who's pregnant, told the station about her complaint against officers for shoving a baton against her throat and taking a phone with which she was shooting video.

The couple agreed to an interview with the outlet despite "our desire not to center whiteness in a Black Liberation Movement," as Jesse wrote in a Facebook message reproduced in its entirety below — and while he doesn't excoriate the resulting report, also on view here, he doesn't seem wholly satisfied with it, either.

The video by Jesse shows a protester on a bicycle nudging his elbow in the direction of a motorcycle officer, and the officer's bike falling over, after which the cop and others pin demonstrators against a bus. But Jesse contends that the man's elbow didn't actually touch the officer. Instead, he believes the cop popped the motorcycle's clutch, after which he lost balance and the bike fell over of its own accord.

Here's the clip, including slow-motion footage toward the end that Jesse feels proves his point:

When Jesse contacted CBS4, he notes on Facebook, the question of whether or not the protester's elbow had touched the officer didn't grab the attention of station personnel as firmly as did the question of what happened to Jessica.

As he writes, "The only thing that got them interested enough to do the story was the snatching of Jessica’s phone."

Actually, the phone-snatching is second in importance when it comes to the headline on the CBS4 item, which reads, "Pregnant Woman’s Phone Taken During Police Protest That Ends In Violent Arrests."

The station quotes her as saying, “I just looked him in the eye and tried to say as calmly as I could, I’m pregnant. Please don’t hurt my stomach."

Jessica subsequently filed a complaint with the Denver Police Department. A DPD rep declined to comment on camera, but did confirm that the department's Internal Affairs division would investigate the matter.

Jessica Benn in her CBS4 interview.
Jessica Benn in her CBS4 interview.

Is Jessica's story also appealing to the mainstream media because she happens to be white? This is the sort of issue that's been debated for years. During our recent interview with the Reverend Leon Kelly about gang-related killings in assorted Denver neighborhoods, for instance, he said, "If a policeman had shot any of these kids, or if a white person had been shot — if all of these kids who were killed were white — it would make national news. Not city news or state news, but national news."

After the CBS4 report aired, Jesse's reaction on Facebook touches on these topics:

Well. As we feared they didn't make our story about anything beyond two white people, mostly a white pregnant woman, which is one of the things white supremacy protects most dearly.

It does seem that some light on the unconstitutional behavior of the Denver PD is worthy of discussion. And hopefully we weren't taking any space.

I also think the fact they didn't include almost anything I said reflects that most of what I said wasn't about me or Jessica, which feels like a tangential success.

Here's the CBS4 offering, followed by Jesse's complete Facebook message posted prior to its airing.

Jesse Benn Facebook post:

After a good deal of consideration and hesitance Jessica and I decided to give CBS an interview regarding the theft of Jessica’s phone by the Denver PD.
Although the theft of someone’s phone who was legally filming the violent arrests of a number of people, including two Black people — one a young Black woman who is violently taken down while offering no resistance, and another a Black man who was plucked off the sidewalk — is absolutely a newsworthy event in itself, we knew that because of where this happened we would also be talking about why we were protesting.

Thus, our hesitance stemmed, mainly, from the desire to leave ourselves out of the story as we both vehemently believe that white people supporting a Black Liberation Movement like Black Lives Matter should stay out of the spotlight and work behind and parallel to the movement within white spaces to dismantle white supremacy.

There was also some trepidation on my part due to the open charges, and our overall skepticism of media coverage of protests.

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At the end of the day these hesitancies (in our estimation) counterintuitively meant that we should give the interview.

On the most important point, our desire not to center whiteness in a Black Liberation Movement, this was a case in which they weren’t covering this story anymore, despite their really problematic initial coverage, and they generally offer very little coverage of Denver protests. And almost none from the view of the protesters.

And the only thing that got them interested enough to do the story was the snatching of Jessica’s phone.

So we had the option of declining, or giving the interview and doing everything we could to deflect or use our story as a vehicle for the broader messages of the movement - all while loudly noting that there was a reason CBS was interested in our story and not the stories of the disproportionately Black/brown residents who live in Denver’s underprivileged and over-policed neighborhoods.

CBS4 coverage of the protests.
CBS4 coverage of the protests.

And that’s what we tried to do. As completely unseasoned interviewees it’s hard to know if we were truly able to do that, and we know that this might have been the wrong decision. But at the end of the day we hoped to shine light on why we were there, not the fact that we were there, and the problematic nature behind CBS going out of their way to interview two white people.

And that felt like a worthwhile message.

It’s not fair that white people will,

1) Put the resources in to come cover the story of two white people while the underprivileged are left to suffer in silence, in the dark, with impunity, and without empathy.

And 2) Listen to a story and honor it in a way that when Black people/people of color tell similar stories or worse — stories that resulted from systemic oppression and not because they intentionally went to a protest no less - those same white people would dismiss, ignore, and even demean them.

On the other hand, those two things are still true. In this way it felt like it was worth using our privilege and its unfair nature (hopefully) in a way that not only called it into question, but that also benefits the messages we stand in solidarity with, but never speak for. I think we did a decent job accomplishing these goals, but it’s hard to say and it’s rather out of our hands now as they splice together a few soundbites from our longer discussion.

Off-camera, I got the impression that this was a genuine effort by journalists working against a system that routinely fails to cover protests in a fair way, or to give fair voice to the underprivileged. Don’t catch me voicing a “not all journalists” message, but often it’s not that they are bad at their jobs or lacking in aspiration, it’s that they’re stuck in a system that sets them up for failure.

We’ll see tonight at 10 pm on CBS. Anxious to see how it goes, open to critiques about our choice to go ahead with the interview - especially from Black people and people of color. But hoping we made the right choice.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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