The TownhallSocial issues

Ryan Coogler is living in a false reality

By Che

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

It’s time we start telling the truth. We’re living in a time where people deny what they see with their own two eyes. Instead, they blindly follow the prescribed account as given by those who own the means of communication. Dangerous times are ahead if we continue down this path.  

When I speak of the “truth” I’m talking about what’s really there, not some Hollywood script depicting a reality so far from the truth that it distorts real life decision making. We can haggle over the morality of an issue, the underlying motives and/or intentions and what can be done to change things later. When people are confronted with reality in real time, those liberal arts lectures fly right out the window, and “fight or flight” becomes the only concern.  

This recalls the recent situation that took place involving Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. Coogler was apprehended by police at an Atlanta bank when a teller mistook him for a bank robber. Police arrived and handcuffed Coogler before letting him go once it was determined he was there to withdraw from his own account. 

Obviously, there is much more to the story as well as lessons we can all learn from if we start telling the truth.  

Coogler, a black man, walked into the Bank of America looking to withdraw $12,000 from his own bank account. He was dressed wearing a gray hoodie, black beanie, sunglasses, and a mask. He handed the teller, a pregnant black woman, a withdrawal slip asking for the specified amount as well as handwritten instructions on the back of the slip asking the teller to be discreet about the transaction. He also inserted his debit card and handed over his ID.  

According to police records, the teller said Coogler had refused to answer her questions and instead pointed to the directions on the note. When she received an “alert notification” on her computer due to the amount being in excess of $10,000 she went to speak with her manager. She said that the entire transaction “felt wrong” or suspicious. When her manager suggested she talk to Coogler, she refused, citing that she was scared because she was pregnant and didn’t know if he had a gun. 

When police arrived, they found a parked Lexus in front with the engine still running. The male driver indicated that he was waiting for Coogler. Officers then approached Coogler who appeared shocked as one officer had his firearm drawn on him. Both he and the driver were placed in the back of the officer’s vehicle while the matter was resolved. Once it was determined that Coogler was not a bank robber but a patron, both he and his driver were released. 

Those are the facts.  

Blue check Hollywood has come out with their usual virtue signaling, predictably calling the incident racist. “A black man can’t even take his own money out of his own account without being profiled and harassed?” has been the script given to repeat until accepted as truth. This statement is anything but true, as it leaves out so much context that would not only clear up misconceptions but provide lessons for future generations.  

The entire exercise is the art of distraction: let me enrage you over there so you won’t notice what’s going on over here. The truth is the antithesis we need.  

The narrative being portrayed is that black men in America are constantly stereotyped and profiled as a criminal despite being successful and a contributor to society. Your economic status doesn’t matter because your racial status is all that matters in this white supremacist society. This narrative isn’t just inaccurate. It inhibits the individuals that adhere to it from receiving the truth.  

Lessons are missed because the truth is never told. Supposedly, life is a series of events completely out of your control. You can’t do anything to alter or change anything in any way, thus your complaints appear to be validated. But this is the narrative’s problem. At the end of the day, it’s hurting the people it claims to help. 

There’s a lot to unpack with the Coogler situation. Let’s begin with the teller. Many are blaming her for calling the police and being brainwashed by white supremacy to hate “her own.” What’s missing from these analyses is context. You know, why something happened based on the surrounding circumstances. Context is important because it can help you determine how to move in a given situation. If Coogler understood this, none of this would have happened. If you’re convinced that an interaction with law enforcement will inevitably lead to your death, take heed to the following breakdown so you can avoid 12 at all costs.  

Let’s put ourselves in Coogler’s shoes for a second and evaluate the best course of action. I need to withdraw $12,000 in cash from my bank to give to a medical assistant who prefers to be paid in cash. Walking out of the bank with that large sum of money could be a problem especially if there’s someone on the inside relaying information to an accomplice on the outside.  

Consider context: we are living in a time when criminals feel emboldened to commit crimes. I’ve argued one reason is the masks. Politicians don’t want to talk about this but the introduction of mask wearing in public as a normal article of clothing has been a dream come true for criminals wanting to keep their identity hidden. 

It’s very simple. A criminal can approach you completely concealed, and you won’t be able to react appropriately until it’s too late. The second reason is that activist judges and district attorneys are lenient on offenders to appease their progressive donors. So, it’s understandable that Mr. Coogler would want to be discreet.  

To ensure this would go smoothly, it would have been smart on Coogler’s part to call the bank ahead of time, ask to speak with a manager, and arrange a time where he could make his withdrawal in a comfortable manner. This is what people usually do when they’re dealing with these kinds of figures. But we’ll give Coogler the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe it was last minute and couldn’t be arranged.  

Upon arrival, he could’ve asked to speak to the branch manager and explain the situation then. They could’ve discussed the matter in a private office or cubicle. The only other alternative was to do what Coogler did and that was to approach the teller with a withdrawal slip. The problem with this method, as opposed to speaking with a branch manager, is you run the risk of dealing with someone with little experience. 

Coogler decided to approach the teller. He also decided to wear a hoodie, beanie, mask, and sunglasses too. Remember what I said earlier about criminals feeling “empowered and emboldened?” Well, that works both ways. Just as it was in Coogler’s best interest to be cautious of criminals, so too was the bank teller. The difference is, unless Coogler told the teller what he was doing in the bank, they wouldn’t have reason to believe someone would want to rob him.  

The bank teller works somewhere that is always a target for robberies. With this understanding, you must concede that going into the bank in this attire didn’t help his wishes for discretion.  

Coogler’s decision to hand the teller a withdrawal slip with handwritten instructions on the back, put in the context stated above, didn’t help his case. Was this wrong of him to do? No. Nobody is claiming that Coogler did anything wrong. I just think his decision making wasn’t the best. Also, according to the teller, he responded to any question she asked him by pointing at the note. 

All of this behavior is out of the ordinary. Bank tellers don’t ordinarily conduct transactions like this. He chose to deal with the less experienced of the possible employees, so when she received an alert notification on her computer indicating that a transaction above $10,000 was taking place, she panicked.  

We always want to find fault in everything. We need a nefarious reason to explain why something happened. I don’t think every situation needs to be solved and/or “fixed.” Coogler wasn’t wrong in this situation. But I also don’t think the teller was wrong either. 

Yes, Coogler produced his debit card and ID, something no serious bank robber would do. Should this have put the teller at ease and demonstrated that this was a normal transaction? You can say that. 

The problem with that argument, however, is that it’s mostly coming from people who have never been in life-threatening situations. As much as society wants us to worry about other people’s feelings, when push comes to shove, people will always choose their life over the discomfort of others. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.  

Was Coogler’s race a factor in the teller’s response to the situation? It’s possible. But that would bring about a different conversation that many aren’t willing to have. There’s also the way people perceive other people and situations that must be acknowledged as well.  

Most people have never witnessed a drive-by shooting, but if you ask them to describe one, they can. How is this possible? Because we have cinematic minds, meaning our perception of reality is based on the information we have available to us. You can describe a drive-by shooting because you have some information about it, mostly what you have seen via entertainment. People then see these scenarios unfold in real life and panic because it matches the connection in their own brain. You watch Set It Off and go to the bank the next day and everyone is a possible bank robber.  

With this in mind, we also consider how certain groups of people are depicted in entertainment and media. If the only image you have of black males is one of hip-hop artists, you can’t help but believe that the average black male walking into a grocery store could be a thug, drug dealer, gang member, thief, etc. After all, hip-hop constantly glorifies this kind of lifestyle. 

Call it racial profiling, but it doesn’t change the reality that people will react based on what best serves their interests. If that means walking to the other side of the street because a group of teenagers walk towards you, then that’s what people will do. The problem is the people portraying images, or acting in ways that leave the next person who looks like you vulnerable. But again, a different conversation many aren’t willing to have.  

Coogler, like everyone else in this country, has a right to dress how he wants, wear sunglasses indoors if he wants, and give handwritten instructions to the teller as a means of conducting a bank transaction. However, the teller has a right to act in accordance with her best interests. It’s really that simple. At a point in time where crime is rising in some cities, I can’t blame her for being safe rather than sorry.  

We can go on about how “in a perfect world” everyone would see each other as non-threatening, free spirits who hug animals and let homeless people live in their living room. But that’s not reality. If you want to survive in the real world you have to start “keeping it real” and talking about real life.  

Some things are better left alone because to alter it in any way could lead to a worse outcome. Sometimes our ability to profile and stereotype is necessary for survival. Not too long ago, I found myself in a similar situation. It was early in the morning, and I was walking to my car. It was cold and windy, so I was wearing a hoodie pulled over my head and walking fast. In front of me was a young woman who didn’t know me from Adam. She kept looking over her shoulder as I was quickly approaching her. When I got too close for her comfort, she quickly crossed the street. 

Should I be offended? I wasn’t. She did exactly what I would want my wife or mother to do if there was a strange man walking quickly towards them. She doesn’t know me, so I was a stranger to her. 

The woman walking in front of me didn’t succumb to political correctness when confronted with a scenario she was unsure about. I had to be honest about how I could have been perceived. I needed to be self-aware. If my car was further and I knew I would eventually catch up to her, I would have crossed the street myself, just to avoid startling her and possibly having a different outcome. I wasn’t obligated to go out of my way at all, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be repercussions. 

Intelligence will take you a long way. Knowing how to move and when not to is probably the most important understanding you can have. Coogler was careless when he claimed to have been cautious. Like so many others, their actions do not align with their words. 

You hate the police and feel as if just encountering them will lead to your death, yet you do everything in your power to attract them to you. To avoid this, start by being self-aware and telling the truth.

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Che is a writer and host of “The No Spoon Podcast” on Scoon TV.

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