If you haven’t watched this video (WARNING: very strong language), watch it in full before reading further, and especially before commenting.
I am saddened by the repeated victim blaming in this case. It is very clear from the video, and from his subsequent suspension, that this lone officer is acting in an unprofessional, hostile, and dangerous manner. And yet I continue to hear comments like, “well the issue isn’t policing, it’s parenting” (blaming the teenagers’ parents) and “people need to learn to be respectful to police officers and to submit to their authority.”
I’m also confused by the refusal to acknowledge racism in this instance. Whenever racism is brought up as a cause for this officer’s actions, I continue to hear comments, in addition to the previous ones, such as, “what does race have to do with it – maybe he’s just hotheaded.” At least in this latter comment, people are still rightly blaming the officer for his actions instead of blaming the victim. But there is still a denial of what seems to be clearly in front of us.
The first problem, for me, is that these comments, victim-blaming or not, seem to ignore what is clearly evident in the video:
- A) the first officer we see (well, besides Super Trooper’s duck and roll at the beginning) is calmly speaking to a group of African-American teenager boys, explaining how they should have handled the situation differently (obviously there were kids running, but this officer treated the situation calmly and de-escalated it, and the kids are responding respectfully). Then we see Super Trooper come in and re-escalate by screaming profanities and throwing kids to the ground.
- B) Notice that the lone officer in question only screams at and threatens the African-American kids. There are plenty of white kids in the video, too, but they are all just calmly walking away. Now, perhaps this is -in part – due to what we don’t see in the video, i.e. the situation that caused the police to arrive. BUT – and this is important – we don’t know what the call was or why the kids were running. Obviously many (most?) stopped running, both white and African-American, but only the latter were threatened and corralled. Every single white kid in that video can be seen being left alone and calmly walking away. And, again, look at what the other officers do. They aren’t doing anything like what the lone one is doing. They are de-escalating the situation and calmly talking to a group of African-American boys, when Lone Wolf comes along and re-escalates *specifically* by threatening the African-American boys (and leaving the white kids who are also in the group alone!).
- C) The main problem at hand is how he treats the teenage African American girl in the bathing suit about halfway through the video. It’s not as up close as the rest of the video, admittedly, but it’s clear that, when this officer comes up to a group of girls and profanely screams at them to disperse, some of them walk away but this girl says something like “I can’t go yet I’m waiting for my mom.” The officer screams at her to wait somewhere else, then at the remaining girls to leave again. When they do, the one girl remains, saying repeatedly she has to wait for her mom. For this, it seems, the officer tries to drag her down and submit her. When two friends of hers come up to the officer to try and plead her case, he waves a gun at them.
- D) None of this points to any justifiable action on the officer’s part. Obviously these kids could have reacted differently. They could have stood there when the police arrived instead of scattering. She could have tried to call her mom from another location. They could have approached the officer and implored on her behalf from in front rather than behind (although, again, the sitiuation was crowded already).
- E) But here’s the thing: **They were a bunch of teenagers in bathing suits.** Every teenager I’ve ever met, including myself, can’t be expected to make the exact decision he needs to every time, especially when the situation is escalated. And yet these kids seem to calm down under the influence of good officers, are respectful in the face of the lone officer’s profanity and threats, and yield to his authority. Yes, the girl should have walked away. She’s also a teenager who’s scared and waiting for her mom. And shouldn’t the police officer be the one behaving beyond reproach, if it’s going to be one or the other?
The second problem I have is that, in many cases, the refusal to see what is in the video may reveal something else, namely a denial of our history and cultural proclivity towards racism. I am not saying this is true in everyone’s case – many people may just want to give all police officers the benefit of the doubt, or they do not want to make character accusations that cannot be proven, like racism – but I am saying I’ve seen and heard too much racist treatment of others to be blind to the fact that race still influences people in all walks of life.
I grew up in the South. I went to college and did my master’s and Ph.D. work in the South. And if you want to tell me that people aren’t racially motivated in all kinds of situations, whether they admit it to themselves or others or not, I’ll tell you that’s just not true. I’ve heard too many people – friends, family, co-workers, church members, fellow students, acquaintances, civil servants, and, God forgive me, myself in younger years – tell me, “80% of the crime is committed by 20% of the population”; “well, when you just wait on a welfare check and are too lazy to work this is what happens to the culture”; “lock your doors in that part of town”; “I’d never let my son our daughter date a black person, not because of the person but because of their family’s influence”; etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
My point is that, even if it’s behind closed doors or in our own heads, racism is alive and well in Southern white America. So when I see an overly aggressive police officer threatening only African American teens and not white teens, when I see him exhibit verbal and physical hostility towards unarmed and barely clothed kids and let an older white man follow him around (as if he also has some kind of derivative white authority), when I see him drag an African-American teenage girl by her hair to the ground and pin her there because she wanted to wait for her mom in the spot she designated, yes – I call racism. Maybe this officer doesn’t know his own heart. Maybe he’s never uttered a racist word to anyone. And we definitely can’t ever prove what was in his heart. But after the centuries-long violence of white against black, through slavery, through Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, through police brutality, through legislation that hurts instead of helps, both history and our hearts point to racism in McKinney and in America.
What can we say to this injustice? What can we do?
We say the only thing we can say – Jesus Christ died to save sinners and to in his own flesh break down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, white and black, and by reconciling them make them one new man in him. And we do the only thing we can do – believe that Christ is building his body and healing it by the power of his Spirit to glory of the Father. That’s not some kind of Keswickian platitude – I’m not letting us out of hard work. But our hands and feet can only act by the power of the Spirit. So trust the Spirit to reconcile us, as we break bread together, serve one another, love one another, and build one another up.