I just got out of the hospital after over 2 ½ weeks. I was admitted after the 4th of July with complete heart block. Turns out I have something called Cardiac Sarcoidosis (fortunately, most cases are knocked into permanent remission with treatment).
By the time I left the hospital my physical heart was beating normally, but my emotional heart felt far from it. Like most Americans, I had watched the events unfolding in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas and North Miami (not to mention all the incidents of the past several years fresh in my mind) with horror: more senseless death and injury for black citizens, and then cycles of misguided retaliation against the police. Once again America's raw racial nerve was exposed, once again people were dead.
Sitting in the hospital for several weeks was the first time in my adult life I was not constantly occupied by some kind of work (doctor's orders). This, coupled with a potentially life threatening illness and being hooked to a constantly beeping heart monitor, pushed me take stock of what is important in life: family and loved ones, their health and safety. The acute nature of these human needs was compounded as I watched the heartbreaking events on TV for many hours straight.
Everyone reading this who isn't a police officer, the family of a police officer, a black man or the family of a black man in America, try to imagine how young black men in this country must feel with their elevated risk, how their parents and others who love them must feel. And then try to imagine how police officers must feel going to their jobs, how their families must feel as they walk out the door every day risking death.
I have seen the devastation first hand with people I know - the Henry family here in Boston whose honor roll, star athlete, community minded, trouble-free son, Danroy Henry, was shot and killed by police in New York while away at college. Despite a valiant effort by politicians in Massachusetts and supporters of all races, DJ has yet to find justice.
Though these deep-seated, entrenched and seemingly intractable problems have plagued our country for generations, inaction is not an option. Yet how do we provide any additional layer of comfort and protection? There is a lot of talk about changing hearts and minds and soothing divisions. And we need to keep working to change our culture, tackle racism that goes deep, and address the continuing plague of gun violence, but sadly, these are longer term undertakings that will not stop people from dying today, in one week, in one month.
Whatever the underlying root cause of this epidemic, many lives can be saved right now using technology - technology to add transparency and remove the layers of misunderstanding and miscommunication during a police stop. Technology to diffuse a potentially lethal situation before it ever gets to that point.
No police officer wants to shoot and kill an innocent person in the line of duty. The impact and devastation (regardless whether the legal system prosecutes) is permanent and psychologically altering. And it goes without saying that no person on the other side of the equation should ever have to expect that they might be shot for no reason.
While I was in the hospital I was visited by my good friend Mark Slater, a successful Boston entrepreneur (Pingup) whom I have known since we were in college. We got to talking about how disgusted and saddened we were by the events taking place. Mark is neighbors with Boston's Police Commissioner, William Evans, and we discussed how Boston has largely avoided these issues. Boston is a national model for community policing - the cops and the community work together through things like the 10 Point Coalition, a group of community leaders, ministers and activists who work alongside the police. Many cities are learning from our success, but as Mark pointed out there are ways to hack these lines of intent and communication through technology in order to move toward a mutual cooperation model. Mark explained that he and Ben Sack (a good friend of his) were working on a possible solution and the conversation took on a life of its own.
My good friend Divine (The 4th Letter), a rapper and Silicon Valley based black, tech entrepreneur, also came by the hospital to cheer me up. I told him about the solution the three of us had discussed building. His reaction was immediate: it is vitally important that this app exists right away!
Mark, Ben and I got to work and in 2 weeks of late nights we built Safecaster, an app we are very proud of. Safecaster is a purely non-commercial application: it is for the greater good and is free.
Safecaster, which s now live on the iOS App Store (and which was approved 24 hours after it was submitted), is a simple tool that allows the user to record what's happening around them at the time of a police stop (or other critical situation) and have this streamed or "cast" to two previously selected emergency contacts.
We have developed Safecaster specifically to help defuse the current atmosphere of many law enforcement based exchanges. The app serves as a bridge for both sides to demonstrate their desire to cooperate and act constructively to save lives. Safecaster could also be used in other, non law enforcement situations where an individual feels threatened (for example, someone walking home alone late at night).
Here's how it works: If you are stopped, you tap the Safecaster icon on your phone. Safecaster automatically starts recording and also streams a live feed to two trusted friends or loved ones that you've previously added. There is no recording on your device. Soon, Safecaster driver's side window stickers will apprise the officer involved that the driver is someone who wants to ensure their interactions with the police are safe for all involved.
Many police officers have dash and body cams filming all stops, but these do not provide the buy-in, real-time nature and participation from the person being stopped. When a person being stopped affirmatively says (by activating Safecaster), "I have nothing to hide and, in fact, I am willing to record and share my response to the police officer with law enforcement directly," they signal intent to participate in a violence-free exchange with the police officer and to move on.
I wish Safecasting weren't necessary, but while we change hearts and minds, let's still save lives ... if it can save even one life, we believe it is worth it!
Please download the app: http://www.safecaster.com
[Please note, the app, Safecaster, is a free & not-for-profit generating tool built for the greater good.]