I don’t normally use these articles to post on politically sensitive subjects. Blackface, being careful with realistic weapons as props, or telling people not to dress up like a Nazi should be common sense. They are issues that affect the cosplay community, things that are more insular than issues that involve society at large. Some might think that not addressing national and societal political issues here is sticking my head in the sand. Perhaps they’re right, but it’s been my way of doing things.
Last weekend though, I attended TeeCon in downtown Washington, DC. As an up and coming con, it’s always fun to see the vendors, the cosplayers (few as they were), and feel the unique culture of the show. As Jae was practicing her makeup skills with an excellent Ghost Rider (see pics) I thought I’d go with my SHIELD Agent cosplay. I had built it back in late 2014, it’s easy-ish to slip on, and it fit with the Marvel theme. As it has that tactical look, I skipped any sort of props that might look like a firearm or blade. Much like I’ve said in previous PSAs, I did not want to seem like I was armed or a threat in any way to law enforcement or people on the street. Sure, I’d turn some heads, but as long as I got dressed when I got there and disassembled before we got back in the car, I figured I’d be alright.
But I wasn’t. As Jae and I walked around, a group of young PoC girls ran up to her and wanted a photo. She was happy to oblige, and I stepped up to take her things so they wouldn’t be in frame. I have never seen such terror as the look in all three girls’ eyes when they saw me. Physically recoiling, they backed up and two of them tried to hide by a booth. It was heartbreaking. I’ve been a Jedi and superheroes, but they were fearful of my very presence. More than the hellspawn with a flaming skull for a face. I was a symbol – of a white, male, police-like authority – and potentially a threat to them or their loved ones.
This cannot stand. I’m not saying this b/c it’s some sudden epiphany. I’m not totally blind to the world we live in. But this is where the issue intersects with cosplay, with something I can speak to from personal experience. Children should not live in fear of the police. Fear that those that are meant to serve and protect will kill them. There are too many well-known situations (Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Philandro Castile, etc) to reference, so perhaps a more recent example: Just this week, another young black man’s death was ruled as a homicide after fleeing four plain-clothes deputies – and he died from “compressional asphyxia” during arrest. Police originally claimed that he had an asthma attack. It’s no surprise that it’s lead to a culture of fear that the police will use deadly force, even for non-violent offenses.
By the same token, this is no anti-police rant. Police officers have a sometimes dangerous job that includes long hours, low pay, and little thanks. It can lead to camaraderie, but also a culture of “Us vs. Them”. We need to fix this relationship between the people and law enforcement. We need to fix the culture. Better training on bias and use of force, better accountability for those that bend the rules with tools like body cameras, and better communication with the communities they serve. I've known a number of police officers through my life. They came into my school to speak, they came into the coffee shop I worked, they were my uncles, they patrolled my neighborhood. In every case they were professional and kind, they worked to know the people that lived there, and sometimes even shared crazy stories from patrol. I never knew that fear – but many people do, especially in minority communities – and that cannot be ignored.
These changes won’t happen overnight. They require work, legislation, and support from all sectors of society. Even those that don’t see it in their personal lives. Only when we can work together to make the necessary changes will SHIELD be what it was always meant to: A shield to protect us all.