Viral NYPD Racial Profiling Video Was Staged
Clip purports to show Muslims being targeted by cop
10/21 UPDATE: Video's creators admit to staging NYPD profiling episode
OCTOBER 21--In a cynical and duplicitous attempt to capitalize on New York City’s documented racial profiling problems, a pair of bloggers have created a video purporting to show an NYPD officer stopping and frisking a pair of Muslim men for the crime of wearing traditional Islamic garments.
But the viral video is a sham, a staged production aimed to go viral and pile up views and YouTube channel subscriptions for its young creators, Brooklynites Adam Saleh and Sheikh Akbar, who get a piece of the revenue generated by ads that run before their videos play.
The duo’s video operation--which is named “TrueStoryASA”--has racked up 60 million YouTube views and has more than 661,000 subscribers on the video-sharing site. While most of the pair’s videos involve pranks, sidewalk attempts at comedy and social commentary, or “Muslim-related stuff,” their latest clip seeks to latch onto an issue that has troubled many New Yorkers and tainted the NYPD.
Titled “Racial Profiling Experiment,” the 2:53 video (seen above) was uploaded Sunday to YouTube, where it has already been viewed in excess of 135,000 times. The clip has received coverage in several publications, including the British newspaper The Independent and The Huffington Post.
[Akbar (left) and Saleh are pictured in the adjacent photo.]
The video opens with Saleh and Akbar loudly arguing as they walk down a Queens street. The men, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, shove each other and appear on the verge of exchanging blows. While this is transpiring, a purported NYPD officer stands just feet away. With his arms folded, the impassive cop--whose face has been blurred--does nothing as the pair seems on the verge of fighting. The scene is apparently being filmed from a parked car by a friend of Saleh and Akbar.
The video then jumps ahead 20 minutes, when Saleh and Akbar are again seen arguing on the same sidewalk. This time, however, Saleh is wearing a headdress and a white robe. Akbar has on a keffiyeh scarf and an abaya, a long shirt. In their YouTube description of the video, the men describe these garments as their “cultural clothes.”
This time, the quarreling duo is immediately confronted by the cop, who asks, “What’s all the arguing about? Why are you dressed like this?” Motioning to their clothes, he demands, “What is this?” In short order, the patrolman shoves Saleh up against the wall and directs him to put his hands up and “open your legs.” During the cursory search that follows, the cop feels something in Saleh’s pocket and yells, “What is this? What’s in your pocket?” When Saleh responds that it is his phone, the officer asks, “Is this a gun? Is that a knife?”
Oddly, the officer never bothers to remove the item to confirm that it is a phone and not a deadly weapon. Also, the cop does not appear concerned that Saleh’s friend is hovering directly behind him.
After Akbar is later subjected to a similarly perfunctory frisk, Saleh does the reveal. Removing the headdress, he tells the officer, “I’m the same guy from before. I came 20 minutes earlier, we had an argument, we hit each other, and you didn’t do anything.” Then, referring to the pair’s new clothes, Saleh added, “And now when we have this, you gonna come and do something to us?”
Confronted about his racial profiling and illegal searches, the cop appears befuddled and stripped of his bravado. He is left to warn a passerby--whose timing is impeccable--to “Take a walk before I arrest you for obstruction.”
The video is a marvelously tidy example of the NYPD’s supposedly wicked ways. At the clip’s end, Saleh and Akbar appear to explain, “What you just saw is what we always go through when we’re filming with our culture clothing on.” Saleh then claims that the pair had been out shooting another video when “police happen to, like, follow us and racial profile us. So we stopped filming that video and we decided to make this video for you guys. And it happened in one chance.”
The video ends with a request for viewers to give it a “thumbs up” vote on YouTube, as well as a pitch for new subscribers to the duo’s video channel.
The purported “Racial Profiling Experiment” undertaken by Saleh and Akbar was filmed on 126th Street in the Willets Point section of Queens, across from Citi Field, home to the New York Mets. The video was shot on a street where many of the businesses--tire outlets, auto repair firms, muffler shops--have been closed or relocated as part of a city redevelopment effort.
An NYPD source who last night viewed the clip at TSG’s request said that an officer from the local police precinct (the 110th in nearby Elmhurst) would not be standing patrol by himself on a deserted street in the middle of the day. As for the purported officer’s frisking technique, the NYPD veteran laughed, “That’s not how they teach you in the academy.” He also remarked that it was “inconceivable” that an officer would ask a Muslim man, “Why are you dressed like this?”
By obscuring the purported cop’s face, Saleh and Akbar have sought to avoid the immediate debunking of their clip, which has already garnered in excess of 30,000 “thumbs up” on YouTube and more than 5200 comments. In their supposed effort to expose racial profiling, the video’s creators have inexplicably--yet conveniently--provided cover for the rogue patrolman, now an electronically blurred boogeyman.
A second source, a recently retired NYPD detective who also watched the “profiling” video at TSG’s request, branded it an “obvious hoax” intended to “smear” police.
If that was the intent of Saleh and Akbar, they appear to have succeeded. According to The Huffington Post, the video provides a “small glimpse into the ugly world of racial profiling.” The news site later updated its piece to indicate that the clip’s authenticity could not be verified, and that NYPD officials are reviewing the video.
Since the video was uploaded to YouTube, Saleh, Akbar, and their friends have been aggressively promoting the clip on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Spread the word and bring an end to Racial Profiling,” Saleh wrote. Sheikh told his followers that, “Racial Profiling goes against all equal rights.” He added, “Never expected a reaction like this.”
Saleh and Akbar have not responded to TSG messages sent via Facebook, where each man describes himself as an "Actor/Director."
10/21 UPDATE: In an interview yesterday with Capital New York, a spokesperson for Saleh and Akbar claimed that he had “behind the scene footage” proving that the profiling episode was not faked. Asked for additional details, the flack told reporter Azi Paybarah, “We can't give out details for follow ups--it breaches confidentiality.”
However, despite that shaky assurance, the videographers copped to their perfidy (albeit sneakily) after TSG exposed their hoax this morning. They edited the video’s YouTube description to report that the clip was a “Dramatization of previous events that occurred with us in our tradition clothing while filming in NYC. This video is not against the NYPD.” The video’s original description claimed that Saleh and Akbar were prompted to expose the NYPD after “we kept getting followed by Police. So we decided to film this social experiment on racial profiling.” The duo added that, “Too many innocent people get stopped and frisked” daily due to their clothing and skin color.