Back in 2011, a small brainstorm around the NYPD's racial profiling ("Stop and Frisk") led to an idea that everyone laughed and cringed at simultaneously—a sign that it might be a good one.
The activist who'd asked for the brainstorm in the first place feared it might be too offensive. We asked her to take it back to her constituency, the folks who were being stopped en masse by the NYPD solely on account of their skin color—and they loved it! That's how this project was born.
We spent quite a while developing the elements of the project: the fake press release, the McDonald's promo piece, the vouchers, and of course the website itself.
We forgot, however, that registering a fake website with GoDaddy is a really big no-no—they're big corporate scaredy-cats, and at the first sign of trouble they take down your site. That's what happened when McDonald's complained: GoDaddy cancelled our site within minutes.
But that turned out to be not a bad thing: for the ABC news crew that received the release, it was just the right extra twist. They had what they needed: some video, some images, a funny story... and, thanks to GoDaddy, controversy! "As for the website, it was taken down thanks to copyright infringement," the ABC anchor intoned with much gravitas at the end of the piece.
Oh, one other thing that the news team suggested: activists actually going in to McDonald's to use the voucher. Easy enough! And with that, ABC had their news piece—which we practically could have made for them, the way corporations make VNRs.
Our action was "successful"—it resulted in mainstream press, and more than just on ABC (see below)—but it was of course a small drop in a bucket of an ultimately successful campaign to end "Stop and Frisk." Not long after, mayoral Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign of police reform and shortly after he won abolished "Stop and Frisk." Though actions are drops in the bucket, whole campaigns often win!
(Abolishing "Stop and Frisk," by the way, gained de Blasio significant police enmity, which he then remedied by disastrously defending them during the 2020 George Floyd protests... but that's another story. Also another story is how the police, later, to show Mayor de Blasio just how angry at him they were, went on strike—refusing to act except against cases of violent crime. And guess what? Crime went down. It seems obvious that the police should have just stayed on strike forever....)
Here's some selected press from our action (of which some links may be broken):
- Website spoofs 'Stop and Frisk' and McDonald's, ABC News
- Three Stop-and-Frisks = One Happy Meal, New York Magazine
- Get A McDonald's Happy Meal For Every Third Stop And Frisk! , Gothamist
- 365Black: Here's A Free Happy Meal Voucher, Good After 3 NYPD Cops Frisk And Let You Go, Business Insider
- McDonald’s Denies NYPD Deal to Give Happy Meals to Stop and Frisk Victims, Color Lines
- Three strikes, you're in!, Homeland Security Newswire (Note: This reprint of the press release was up for about 24 hours, until HSN realized it wasn't actual homeland security news)