How do we deal with a Karen or a Ken?

I need to preface these accounts by saying that this is a learning experience for me too. And the result I desire is that the Karens and Kens of the world see that they are defending a system of racism, based on their faith of the police as having a positive social role that is in alignment with their own view of the world. I want them to change, but I also want to be a persuasive militant who can effectively de-escalate social interactions and provoke deeper reflections about the role of the police in upholding white supremacy.

But I'll start with a definition of a Karen:

    Karen is a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a racist white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others. Depictions also include demanding to "speak to the manager", being an anti-vaxxer, or calling the police on non-white people while conflating these interactions as "threats". Ken is the male version of this

My first encounter was earlier this week. When my city went into shelter-in-place on March 16 I started working remotely in the afternoon, so I often get up early and take long walks across on near-deserted streets. Upon returning from my cross-town walk on Monday, I encountered a "Ken" across the street from my apartment. He apparently finished doing something on the other corner, and then he walked his bike to a utility pole in front of my building. I'd noticed the week before that a young DSA comrade had been working their way through the neighborhood putting up fliers, including this one:
The DSA critique is kinda milquetoast and even innocuous. It would be hard to see why anyone would be stridently opposed to it. There's no mention of "ACAB" or "Fuck 12," but just some facts about police statistical manipulation

I saw Ken pulling some long-handled cutting tool off his belt, and cutting the DSA flier down. I ran the half block to him, and started telling him to "stop." But he'd already cut if off, crushed it into a ball, and was about to put it in his pocket. I said, "What are you doing?" He didn't immediately respond, but bent down and picked up some other trash off the ground and threw the filer into a plastic bag he'd just grabbed off the sidewalk. I live at a corner and the DSA member had put fliers on poles on each corner, but they were all gone. Ken has cut them all down. So I asked again, "Why are you taking these fliers down?" He got kinda cocky and said, "I understand how you feel," which he repeated again. Then he launched into a rather lame defense, "Here's the secret, those wood poles are own by PG&E [the utility company] and the metal ones are municipally owned." I said, "So what?," to which he responded that it was "illegal." I immediately pointed to COVID-19 posters on some of the poles and asked how that could be. He then started to leave. I stood in front of his bike and said, "Put the poster back up!" He started mumbling again about the rules and laws.

As this point, I reminded him that DSA had put this disclaimer on the bottom of the flier:
It's in complete conformity with laws around "free speech" (the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights fetish of most Americans), quoting the article of the municipal code, including a stamped date showing that city public works crews can legally remove them after a certain period of time.

I then demanded that he pull the crumpled up flier out of the trash bag so I could show him. He responded by pulling out his cell phone. He was wearing a mask, but I think I've seen him before tearing down fliers and posters in the neighborhood like the right-wing vigilante that I imagine he is, and I would guess that he's about 70 years old. So rather than videoing me, he seemed to be making an unvoiced threat to use the phone against me. So I flat out said, "go ahead and call the cops." Rather than de-escalating, that's what he started to do. I was carrying a tablet, which I then used to try to video him calling the cops on me (I clicked the wrong button and only got one photo of the ground). This made him stop being so strident, and on the call with the police dispatcher, he adopted the meek tone of a victim of some unstated crime. Once he began to explain the details of what was happening, he flat out pleaded that he was "being threatened," I yelled out "BULLSHIT!, and he actually started walking backwards away from me. He simply turned around, got on his bike, continued his call, and rode away. But he nearly fell over as he was trying affect a scared tone as the victim of some crime. All his earlier aggressiveness had disappeared and he meekly went around the corner and down the block, apparently still talking to the police dispatcher. I waited around 5 minutes, but cops never showed up so I went inside. Later I walked down my heavily traveled block, which had had a couple DSA fliers at every intersection, and they were all gone. This white vigilante had cleaned up the neighborhood.

Then on Wednesday, I encountered a Karen and her family. I gotten up around dawn and took a long walk along a clifftop coastal trail, going through a wooded area at the extreme northwest of the city. I was sitting on a bench at an overlook, with the vast Pacific out to the west and the icon Golden Gate Bridge to the east. Ironically, I was reading chapter II. "The White Workers" in W.E.B. Du Bois' Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880 for an online discussion group I'm part of. That critique of reactionary whites was prescient for what I was about to experience.

It was about 8:00 a.m., with only a few joggers passing by on the trail. Too early for the masses of tourists who usually don't venture this far from the parking lot. As I was reading, I noticed a commotion. A half a dozen people were in a loud verbal confrontation. The antagonist appeared to be a disheveled homeless looking guy. There was a small kids bike. I stood up and rushed over, hoping to help diffuse any physical altercation. When I got close, the scraggly-looking guy picked up the bicycle and was taunting the group, especially the 2 men who had stepped up to confront him. He seemed clearly deranged and I thought he was stealing the bike, but the whole incident only lasted about 10 seconds, with the provocateur riding off on what turned out to be his own bike. So I thought, "OK, a non-incident."

But no sooner had I returned to my bench, than I realized that group who'd been taunted were a family of tourists, with 3 adults and 3 kids. Most of them proceeded taking pictures of the bridge. But the middle-aged woman who appeared to be the mother of some of the kids whipped out her phone, and it became obvious she was calling the cops. I stood up again, to hear her giving a description of the guy who'd ridden away on the bike, replete with vivid descriptions of his tattered clothes. I intervened and said, "The guy's gone, why are you involving the police?" To which she and others in her party retorted, "Mind your own business!" I said, "It is my business and if we've learned anything from the Black Lives Matter movement it is that calling the cops results in people getting killed." Again, someone said, "Mind your own business." To which I replied, "No one was touched, the guy just screamed a little, and was soon gone. It's over, why do the cops have to be involved." It's funny, because some of this group didn't miss a beat and kept snapping selfies while posing with the bridge in the distant background.

I wasn't persuasive enough, but remained calm and tried to tell the woman on the phone with a 9-1-1 police dispatcher that it wasn't a issue for the cops to settle, but instead were "mental health and housing issues." And it dawned on me that Karens instantly criminalize homeless folks, on sight, and that being in their presence in itself is a threat. By the tone and attitude, I could tell that they didn't live in San Francisco and obviously rarely dealt with people living on the streets with survival and mental health issues. San Francisco ranks with New York and Los Angeles in having the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Judging by appearances, which is always flawed, I'd say they were tourists from the suburbs.

Both of my encounters, one with a Ken and the other with a Karen, showed me we have a lot more work to do.

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Jul 10 2020 17:25


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Jul 12 2020 15:31

Indirectly related - As a birdwatcher myself in the UK this caught my eye after an audio discussion by the group was circulated over here: