It was a weird chance meeting, tonight.
I just finished interviewing Mark Everton, the President and CEO of Visit Oakland, in the outer entrance landing in front of the Council Chambers at at the Oakland City Council, and was headed back to my seat, when I casually noticed a man standing near my path, watching the TV monitor. Something in me (I can’t describe it better than that) caused the words to blurt out “Are you Henry?”
I didn’t expect the man dressed in a grey fitness suit to respond in the affirmative, but as he was hesitating as of to say “I shouldn’t talk”, I repeated the question and he said he was, indeed, Mr. Sintay. “Henry Sintay,” I said. The rest of the talk we had I can’t share because I promised him I would not do that.
And who’s Henry Sintay? He’s the man they call “Jogger Joe” who on Saturday, June 9 2018, was caught on camera at the Lake Merritt Columns, taking what were the items belonging to a homeless man named Greg Markson and putting some of them in a nearly trash bin, and the rest in Lake Merritt (or so it seems from the videos).
Then, in a second video, Mr. Sintay could be seen in conversation with the man who made the video livestream, Matt Nelson, and others. When Jogger Joe realized he was being filmed by Matt Nelson, it looked like he tried to take the cell phone from him, wrestled him to the ground, beat Mr. Nelson, and ran off with the device, calling for a friend named “T” to catch up to him.
Because of the videos and our hypermedia society, they went vital, and over the course of a day, social media users identified Henry Sintay, and formed a kind of book on the kind of person they thought he was. Some wrote death threats. In all, the social media talk was said to have caused Mr. Sintay to turn himself in to the Oakland Police on Monday June 11th at 1 PM EST. He was remanded to Santa Rita Jail, where he spent three nights on what was $100,000 bail, but was reduced to $55,000 bail.
So the public idea is that Henry Sintay is a bad person – not a good dude. I can say this: He doesn’t come off that way, and is vastly different in person than a single video or image would imply. I can also say that he’s very sorry for what happened, seems dumfounded by it all, and wants to be a better person.
“Jogger Joe” did give me permission to put his image out there on Instagram and social media and say that we talked, but that’s it. And to make sure there’s no misunderstanding, I asked if I could take the photo, and we set the terms of our engagement. The reason’s simple: he has to go back to court.
But what I experience underscored my belief that this rush to demonize anyone on social media is dangerous. I’m not at all saying that what Henry was alledged to have done was an OK thing. No. But I am saying we as Americans have to reinstall the desire to forgive people and give them a second chance. Social media has become a place where society is too quick to judge people based on nothing more than third-hand words and a video. We can’t halp it. But it should not be the path toward the allowance of mob rule. That would end America.
One thing I told Henry that I do want to share is this: I said “You know. You’re lucky you’re not black. If you were a black guy in Oakland, your treatment (by the police and law enforcement) would have been worse. I hope you realize that. This World’s fucked up like that. People thought you were racist. (For what he allegedly did with the homeless man Greg’s items.)
Henry Sintay, who didn’t even know about the BBQ Becky matter, was surprised to hear that, and does get it. Of that, I’m certain.
That’s all I can say for now.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media