June 17, 2020 Sandy Robson
These last few weeks or so have reflected a turbulent period of time in our nation’s history after the unmistakable and terrible scene we witnessed in Minneapolis where George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, pinning him on the ground for nearly nine minutes.
The killing of Mr. Floyd has sparked outrage, protests, marches, and rallies across the U.S. and the world against the racism and police brutality aimed at BIPOC. The acronym, BIPOC, stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Mr. Floyd’s death was but just one of the many similar documented incidents where law enforcement officers have killed Black men and women.
Here, in Whatcom County, roughly 7,000 people attended the June 6, 2020, Solidarity Rally at Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park to, “come together as an inclusive community to make a stand for the injustice of a failed system,” according to the Facebook event post promoting the rally.
One of the featured speakers at the rally was Whatcom County Executive, Satpal Sidhu. A January 12, 2020, Bellingham Herald article had reported that Mr. Sidhu who was elected County Executive in November of 2019, “was born in India, immigrated to the U.S. from Canada and is one of only a handful of members of the Sikh faith who hold public office across the U.S.”
And while community members here and across the country have continued to express their solidarity with BIPOC, there are some people who choose to take actions which target BIPOC.
On June 6, five days after the Solidarity Rally at Maritime Heritage Park was held, a Blaine resident who is active in Whatcom County Republican politics and who ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for Whatcom County Council in 2018, Mike Peetoom, made a June 11, post on his Facebook page which smeared County Executive Sidhu.
Mr. Peetoom’s post featured a mash-up of 4 photos placed on a red background. Above the photos text was placed that read, “AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR COUNTY EXECUTIVE-,” and underneath the photos the letters “ACAB” were placed. The acronym ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.”
Two of the photos included in Mr. Peetoom’s mash-up were screenshots of two Facebook posts made on June 6, by Satpal Sidhu on his personal Facebook page. One post consisted of an aerial photo of the Solidarity Rally at Maritime Heritage Park, and the other post was a shared post which featured a video recording, 7 minutes, 21 seconds in length, of County Executive Sidhu speaking to the crowd during the rally.
The video was recorded by someone in the crowd, so from that view, there were rally attendees standing in front of the person recording the video, and Mr. Sidhu can be seen speaking in the distance. The backs of some rally attendees’ heads were in the camera’s view.
During Mr. Sidhu’s speech, there were signs that were occasionally held up by people which were visible in the video recording. There were two times during his speech where a sign that displayed the slogan, “ACAB No Justice No Peace,” was held up by one of the attendees of the rally. The first time that sign was held up (at around the 2:51 minute mark) it was held up for approx. 26 seconds. The second time that sign was held up for approximately 36 seconds. For whatever reason, the “ACAB” sign is displayed in the June 6 post featuring the video Mr. Sidhu had shared on his Facebook page, even though the sign was not first held up until around the 2:51 minute mark in the video.
The other 2 photos included in Mike Peetoom’s June 11, photo mash-up post were: a “Satpal Sidhu For County Executive” 2019 campaign sign that had been edited with the addition of a red circle with a red diagonal line through it which is widely recognized as the international symbol for no; and a photo of an individual who was photographed at the May 9, 2020, Lynden Freedom Parade and was shown flipping the bird with both hands. Mr. Peetoom had previously posted that same photo of the individual on his Facebook page back on the day of the parade, although, the photo used in his mash-up was altered such that it cut out anything else from the original photo except for the individual.
Between the photos selected for his June 11, post, and the text placed above and below those photos, it was pieced together in Mr. Peetoom’s photo mash-up in such a way that it gives the impression that County Executive Sidhu supports that “ACAB” message on the rally attendee’s sign when there was absolutely no substantiation to show any such connection.
That is how a smear can be crafted — a pieced together photo mash-up with text, all designed to fit the narrative Mr. Peetoom put forth about someone he targeted. In this case, Mr. Peetoom chose to take aim at Satpal Sidhu, the first person of color to serve as Whatcom County Executive, and he chose to do that during a particularly turbulent period of time in our nation’s history in terms of racism, and its continued pervasiveness in our society.