The encounter was broadcast in a video, posted to Facebook on the Fourth of July.
A white man faced the person with the camera, a black man, asking him to step out of the San Francisco building where the white man lived, or to call the person who invited him there. After the man refused, the white man, later identified as Christopher Cukor, a manager at YouTube, called the police.
“You’re just going to be the next person on TV,” Wesly Michel, the man taking the video, told Cukor.
He was right.
After Michel posted the video on Facebook — “So this is July 4th 2019,” he wrote — the video took off, fueled by algorithms on social media that often prioritize outrageous and inflammatory content, leaving a trail of angry conversations in their wake.
Within days, the video was viewed millions of times, getting a boost after it was posted on the Twitter page of filmmaker Tariq Nasheed. Then it was picked up by tabloid media outlets such as the New York Daily News and the Daily Mail.
To many, the video was another entry in the public ledger of black people confronted while doing seemingly quotidian things, the trend that gave rise last year to the hashtag #livingwhileblack.
“Another anti-Black racist in the #BayArea was filmed while he made a fraudulent 911 call on an innocent Black man who was standing outside of a building waiting on his friend to come down,” Nasheed wrote. “The anti-Black racist’s name is allegedly Christopher Cukor, and he works for @youtube.”
A stream of videos have been posted to social media and then covered by the media showing black people harassed, threatened with calls to the police or insulted while doing everyday things such as swimming, barbecuing, napping, gardening and meeting at Starbucks.
But the man who confronted another in this video came forward Tuesday to describe the confrontation from his perspective.
Cukor said he lives in the building and saw Michel enter it without using the call box.
“I did what came naturally and asked where he was going,” he wrote, in a post he published on the site Medium. “I want to be clear on this point, this is something I do regularly, regardless of who the other person is.”
Cukor said that Michel was a friend of a resident’s guest in the building.
He said his actions were also informed by a tragic family history — his father, Peter, was murdered in 2012 after confronting a mentally ill man who had shown up on his driveway in Berkeley, Calif.
“My father was murdered outside his home by a trespasser who he confronted alone. For my child’s safety, my safety and that of the building, I felt it was necessary to get help in this situation,” Cukor wrote. “Furthermore, I’ve encountered trespassers in my building and we’ve been robbed several times. This is not uncommon in San Francisco and the bad actors are all different colors.
But he said that Michel was reacting based on his history as well.
“Unfortunately there is a terrible pattern of people calling the authorities regarding people of color for no other reason than their race,” he wrote. “The last thing I ever intended was to echo that history — and I’m sorry my actions caused Wesly to feel unfairly targeted due to his race.”
Michel did not respond to messages left on a phone number listed for him in public records or his Facebook page.
Police said officers responded to Cukor’s call but left the scene after they found that no crime had been committed.
Cukor’s son had begged him during the video to let Michel be.
“I agree with him, Daddy. Please go. I don’t like this,” he said. “Look what you’ve gotten us into. Let’s go.”
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.