For the International Day for the Elimination of Racism last month, Chris Studer got a special new hoodie—one with a built-in camera that makes it easier to film the police.
The Hoodie Cam was developed by DonerNorth for The Get Real Movement, a non-profit that delivers workshops to combat racism, 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination, and bullying across Canada.
Studer, who is executive director of The Get Real Movement, understands from first-hand experience how such a garment could be beneficial for Black people who have terrifying run-ins with police. People have the right to film those interactions, but are often too scared to do so.
“I was by myself and it was a very scary moment of police targeting me and calling me derogatory slurs,” says Studer, who is Black and grew up in Toronto. In that moment, he didn’t even consider pulling his phone from his pocket to record what was happening. “It was just a kind of a put my head down and hope that it didn’t get worse kind of moment.”
Studer recounted that experience to DonerNorth last fall, when the agency, which has been working pro bono for the charity since 2019, asked if it could deliver some anti-Black racism training for staff.
“That [story] really resonated with a lot of the staff,” said Studer. In subsequent conversations about how the agency could help The Get Real Movement, they returned to that frightening moment that Studer—like so many Black people—face when alone and confronted by police. From those conversations, they arrived at the core of a problem they could try to solve.
“How can we raise awareness of the importance of, and also our rights to film when we feel safe to do so, in a way that also draws attention to the fact that a lot of times people are really scared if they’re by themselves,” said Studer.
DonerNorth came up with the idea of a camera lens in the hoodie’s chest that could be switched on with the tap of a finger.
There were only four Hoodie Cams created, but the goal was never about putting Hoodie Cams into the streets, said Studer. It was about the conversations they start and, hopefully, moments of understanding why so many Black people would want a Hoodie Cam when they are confronted by police.
“A lot of the public doesn’t realize just the level of fear that can be had in some of those interactions, and just how paralyzing those interactions can be dealing with someone who’s so powerful,” said Studer.
“The fact DonerNorth was able to actually create [the hoodies], excited us as a team,” he said. “But it was really meant as an attention-grabbing piece that would lead to more serious information about a serious topic.”
The hoodies have been used in some of the Get Real Movement sessions and workshops, and they also created a special website, TheHoodieCam.ca, containing information about the right to film police, videos of Black people sharing their experiences with law enforcement (see Studer’s story below), and a roundtable with two lawyers discussing individual rights when it comes to dealing with police.
There’s also a line of actual “Film the Police” hoodies and shirts (without cameras) that can be bought from the site, with $5 from each shirt going to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp.
Ultimately, the Hoodie Cams were intended to be a creative way to illustrate a problem, said Studer. “If someone saw this and thought, ‘Oh yeah, it makes sense that that would be needed,’ that in and of itself is part of the problem.”
We shouldn’t need a line of hoodies to protect Black people who are worried about what could happen if they are stopped by the police, he said. “We really need that systemic change so that we’re not worried about that.”