Influencer Bunny Michael shared story of police strip-search at 16

Bunny Michael, an artist, musician, and podcaster, took to Instagram to share their story of being arrested and strip-searched at 16 years old.Michael told Insider that they’d been going through a “rebellious” phase when they shoplifted from a store in Highland Park — a “white wealthy neighborhood” in Dallas county. After being taken to the police station, Michael recalled they were strip-searched and placed in a holding cell — an experience that taught them that “the most intimate parts of [their body] was worth less than a pair of sunglasses.”Ultimately, Michael hopes that their story will shed light on the “dehumanizing” behavior of law enforcement and encourage their followers to share similar experiences. Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amid nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody, many influencers are using their platforms to condemn police brutality and advocate for changes in law enforcement.One such influencer is Bunny Michael, an artist, musician, and podcast host, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Michael is using their 136,000-person Instagram following to talk about race, policing, and structural change. In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Michael, who has previously posted about their Samoan and Mexican heritage, shared their experience being arrested at age sixteen for shoplifting in a “very rich white neighborhood” in Dallas, Texas, and discussed what the incident taught them about law enforcement.”I was taken to the police station and strip-searched (naked, bend over cough) and you know what that experience taught me? That my 16-year-old body and the most intimate parts of it was worth less than a pair of sunglasses and lipstick,” they wrote in the post.”Policing has always been about dehumanizing as a form of punishment and control. And they will do it whenever they think they can get away with it. Because the more submissive you are — the lower u feel — the easier their job is.”

Michael used the hashtag #defundthepolice, adding, “there is a better way and that’s what we deserve.”
Michael told Insider that they had been going through a “rebellious phase” when they stole a pair of sunglasses and a tube of lipstick from a Lord & Taylor in Highland Park, an affluent town in central Dallas County, Texas.When Michael was leaving the store, they recalled, someone “grabbed” their arm and detained them until Highland Park officers then transported them to a police station where, they said, they were strip-searched and placed in a holding cell for “a few hours.”Claire Carter, a criminal attorney specializing in juvenile defense, said this situation — in which a minor was allegedly strip-searched and held in a cell — is not common. 

“I have never had it happen to any of my clients or seen it in any police report I’ve ever read in 20 years,” Carter told Insider. “They were making fun of me, it felt like, to freak me out. It was just this whole performance,” Michael told Insider of the experience. “I’d never felt like that before. It was just meant to intimidate and scare me. The punishment for [shoplifting] was the humiliation.”The “traumatizing experience,” Michael said, affected their whole family. “When I came home, my mom was waiting at the kitchen table and my older sister — everybody — just cried because they could see my face. It was just a very intimidating and humiliating thing.”To this day, Michael says, they’re afraid of law enforcement and have felt “incredibly triggered” by police presence at protests. 

Michael never questioned the strip search until years later — and chose to speak out amid the nationwide protests against police brutality.

A post shared by bunnymichael (@bunnymichael)May 23, 2020 at 2:19pm PDT “I never questioned it until later, when I was an adult. And then with everything happening now — seeing the way that cops are treating people — I was just thinking about my own encounters with police and remembering how scary and humiliating and dehumanizing the experience can be,” they said.Accordingly, Michael wanted to share the experience with their audience to shed light on the issue and provide a space for followers to share similar experiences.”I think my audience understands the importance of being vulnerable and honest,” they said. “It was really beautiful to their reactions and their support.”Indeed, Michael’s post has received hundreds of comments from followers sharing their experiences with police brutality and advocating for “restorative justice.”

Michael says they don’t take the responsibility of having an online platform lightly. Accordingly, they do research before posting about topical issues.

A post shared by bunnymichael (@bunnymichael)May 16, 2020 at 8:28am PDT “I think, as an influencer, when you know that people look to you as somebody they can trust — or they have some relationship with you because they follow you — you have to be very responsible,” they said. “Before you speak on anything, you need to educate yourself. Before I talk about anything, when it comes to like race or any critical issues, I definitely make sure that I do my research.”Before posting, they like to read first-person narratives of people’s experiences and research opposing viewpoints. Most importantly, they take time to process their own thoughts and measure their words. “I think right now it’s very easy for people to just say whatever is on their mind to a large audience,” they said. “And they don’t realize how reckless that can be.”Ultimately, Michael hopes the post encourages their followers to ask tough questions about policing.”I am still kind of processing the experience and learning about what policing actually means,” they told Insider. “And I think that’s what we’re all kind of going through. The whole point of the movement right now is to really shine a light on all of the things that cops do that make absolutely no sense for the safety of the public.”

A community relations representative for the Highland Park Police Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Read more:Officers already get training to address underlying racist attitudes. The only problem? There’s no evidence it actually works.’They are blatantly snubbing us’: Protesters feel at risk as some NYPD officers don’t follow guidelines to wear masks

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