New App Allows Citizens to 'BEAR' Witness to Dangerous Police Encounters

App developer, Kyieme White, talks about the BEAR Witness app and its role in the fight against state-sanctioned violence

Kyieme White, developer of the newly launched mobile app, BEAR Witness, which is designed to allow individuals to alert people in their area when they are feeling unsafe during law enforcement interactions, considers himself a part of the community he intends to benefit from the app’s mission. BEAR, which is an acronym for Bystanders Exercising American Rights, has a mission of creating a positive impact and change in every community by offering support and peace of mind to any fellow “BEARs” who may feel alone and unsafe in potentially dangerous law enforcement interactions.

The upstart app created by Kyieme, and his partner Jenna, is new to the digital market but hopes to make a significant impact in reducing state-sanctioned violence by fostering a community of witnesses to advocate on behalf of citizens who may find themselves in precarious situations with law enforcement. Per their website, the creators  believe that “the American right to bear witness to law enforcement interactions with the public, especially in situations that appear to be escalating in a fatal direction.”

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Kyieme about this revolutionary new app, his hopes for its effectiveness in holding law enforcement officials accountable and most importantly the role he intends it to play in disrupting the trend of police killings of Black people. My interview is below the fold:

Donney Rose:

My first question is, was there a specific incident of police violence that prompted you to create the bear app, or was it just a combination of various events for police violence throughout the years?

Kyieme White:

Definitely a combination of the incidents from recent years, but the Breonna Taylor and the George Floyd incident definitely hit home as it did with a lot of people in the country at the time. So that was around the time that I actually, you know, felt like I wanted to, you know, develop something that could be impactful and more of a long-term solution, obviously not the whole solution, but just a part of the solution.

DR:

Was this your first foray into app development?

KW:

I have other products that I was developing at the time, so, but as far as apps go, I never developed that before in my life. So everything is completely new to us. As far as this whole process goes.

DR:

Okay. And if you don't mind me asking, what is your professional background?

KW:
I'm a truck driver. I'm a CTO class eight truck driver 

DR:
What is the expected response of members in the Bear communities when they are notified of a potentially dangerous police encounter? What are they primarily tasked to do? 

KW:

So essentially what we wanted to encourage people in communities everywhere to do is to show up to the scenes where these incidents are happening. And, you know, just offer witness support operating within your rights and record and be able to basically hold the officers accountable while the person that's being apprehended can focus on just trying to make it out of the whole situation alive and unharmed. So we just kind of wanted to create that presence that will basically help prevent these incidents from getting too carried away. So that's what we encourage people to do to go out [and] get the location of the incident through the app. It directs your GPS, and then you're able to go to the scene and offer your witness support [to] hold officers and everybody involved in the incident accountable.

DR

So basically from what I get from the people in the BEAR community are essentially serving as witnesses and bodies on the scene to where if you have a multitude of people, the police officer may be less likely to try something. Is that correct?

KW:

Yes, that's absolutely correct.

DR:

When was the app launched and what has been the feedback of those who have used it so far?

KW:

The app was launched on February 4th. The feedback has been incredible from people that we know and people that we don't know. In the Instagram community and just social media communities, everybody feels as though it has the potential to be something big and impactful. 

DR:

So seeing that it just launched at the top of the month did you all do any type of pilot to measure the functionality of the app?

KW:

We initially started off with just doing a soft launch with family and friends that we have located in different parts of the country. And initially, we first had it where you would get an alert from anywhere in the country, but we don't want to keep it that way. We kind of want it to be more effective. We want to narrow down a radius that the alerts go out in. As for the functionality, we also were adamant about making sure that the alerts went through and that the locations came up so that the people were able to actually get to the locations and everything was just running smoothly.

DR:

Were you looking to specify a block to the specific neighborhood where an incident may have been taking place?

KW:

Yes, exactly. We'll be able to provide the exact coordinates when the alert.

DR:

What are your hopes for the data collected by the BEAR witnesses with regard to it being used as evidence in criminal cases where police officers have been charged with misconduct, brutality, or murder?

KW:

Definitely first and foremost our total initiative is that no one when we become as impactful and reach our full potential, we don't want anyone to die. That's the whole [point] of our initiative is to become more preventable, but in the case that someone does get harmed or killed by the officers we have videos that go to a secure cloud that can't be tampered with. And our goal is to be able to help people be held accountable. We definitely want to be able to help hold the people that are at fault accountable fully with the data that will be collected with our platform.

DR:

So just kind of a follow-up to that being that we have seen multiple incidents, incidents where police violence and police brutality have been filmed, and sometimes those filmings have been used in court proceedings. What do you feel based on just the specifics the BEAR app will provide differently with respect to just the data that it collects? What do you hope to be different from other instances where filming police violence brought into criminal proceedings, but it didn't really produce the results that we may have been looking for?

KW:

We know that there's a lot of cases where we can't save everybody, so we just want to lower the chances of that happening as much as possible. And honestly, we feel as though once it gets to the point where we have something we can just hope that it holds up in a court of law as best as it could, and we can provide as much data on the incident notes in the witnesses that are on the scene. But our true initiative is to help provide that energy and that presence on the scene so that nothing brutal does get recorded. And that's the most effective part of our mission. I feel like once it goes past that, and somebody does get harmed we got a bigger battle to fight in those types of situations.

DR:

So the primary focus is to be preventative more than anything.

KW:

Absolutely. And we wanted to create just a more organized initiative. You know, a lot of times when people record, they just so happened to be there. We want to create that thing where it's intentional, you know what I mean? Where people are getting up and actually they know what's going on. And they know how another person may feel in these situations with being apprehended or feeling unsafe in a situation like that involving law enforcement. So we want to just be more intentional about what we're doing in our communities and communities across the nation, and just focus on actually being that person in our communities just hope no hope to prevent some of these tragedies from happening as we continue to move forward.

DR:

I was pretty interested in the app just in general, but one particular feature was the one that highlighted suggestive mental exercises to keep someone calm. So my question here is how did you come up with the chips or suggested mental exercises to keep somebody calm during a tense interaction with an officer?

KW:

It came from just our personal experiences in those types of situations. I've had personal experiences with law enforcement. And I just feel like it's, at the end of the day, we try to, we got to kind of hold ourselves accountable first, do our part as staying calm, which is hard as it may be. We feel like when you can control your mental, you can control your emotions and you can control your situation so well. And, you know, we get tense, we get anxiety. So taking just something as simple as a deep breath. I'm a true advocate of sticking to the basics. Everything doesn't have to be high science, you know what I mean?

So just starting off with the basics and just taking a deep breath and realizing like that might help you remember the people that's dependent on you to get home. We went through the whole list of BEAR tips of things that we would suggest people do based off what we would do in a situation like that to avoid being harmed or murdered in those types of situations. 

DR:

So besides the kind of basics like deep breathing and just kind of as a calming mechanism can you tell me about any other tips that you all offer?

KW:

Be polite, be transparent about what you've got to do. If you want to reach for something, if you get your wallet, if you want to go to the apartment, let the officer know, like, listen, I'm reaching for this. I'm going for that.

Educating yourself and alerting your BEARs are usually your app home as well. We've been trying to contact an organization that can help, that's already on the ground in frontline work that can people educate themselves. Just a simple link that can funnel people to things that they can read.

DR:

Are there folks that you all have already kind of reached out to or people that you have in mind that you form some partnerships to where they can provide either resource information or just additional support to the bear initiative?

KW:

Absolutely. We've been reaching out to as many organizations as we can. You guys are actually one of the first to get back to us, which is a true honor. We reached out to the Know Your Rights Campaign, NAACP, we [are] just trying to just make ourselves known and what our initiatives are in hopes to, be able to provide people with resources that can truly help even once the incident occurs like legal representation, mental health services and things of that nature.

So yeah, definitely. We want to be able to provide that by, you know, possibly partnering with some organizations that's going to work right now.

DR:

The idea of the bear of a BEAR community is powerful because it allows a multitude of people to be a witness to unlawful policing. And what ways do you imagine the BEAR community being a support to victims of police aggression after the moment in question? Considering that nothing goes wrong during a moment of interaction, and no one is physically harmed, but there is a level of trauma that just kind of comes from [the incident], is there a protocol in place to follow up with those victims to assist with anything they may need such as legal representation, mental health services? I know you just touched on it but was that a part of your initial planning to figure out protocol and support them in the aftermath of the incident?

KW:

Yeah, absolutely. That's exactly what our plan was to just connect in, try to make contact with organizations that's already doing that type of work, and have those resources available because we are those [type of] people, we are regular citizens, I just was up to create a platform. I feel like there's people who are professional and well-versed in this area that we want to learn from, and that we're open to, partnering with and just providing resources through our platform as well. And learning more on how to provide those resources as well through our platform. 

DR:

Is this a solo venture for you, or do you have partners that you've worked with to develop the app? Who are all the players involved in the BEAR app?

KW:

We have a very small team. The key partner for me is my lady. She does a lot of administrative work and she connects a lot of the dots. So it's us just running it. We work with our developers to just make sure that the functionality and things weren't seamlessly with the app, but as far as like, just trying to push the initiative with the app and marketing everything that's from here

DR:

I'm going to ask you what, what may feel like a kind of wild or random question, but I'm just curious. Do you personally know anyone in law enforcement in your area and if so have you spoken with him about this and what are some of their thoughts around this app? 

KW:

Definitely. I have known people personally that's in law enforcement and street units. All the feedback has been positive, even from people in law enforcement, they feel like, and I feel like that's expected and we want that kind of feedback from any officer that doesn't have anything that to worry about. It shouldn't be a matter of how many people watch you do your job if you're doing your job right. 

Find BEAR at bearwitnessapp.com or across social media platforms at @bearwitnessapp

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donney Rose is a Writer, Educator, Organizer, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow and Chief Content Editor at The North Star