The Status Quo is Unacceptable

I am the daughter of a police officer. I grew up surrounded by cops. To this day, I have never had an interaction with a cop that wasn’t totally pleasant and comfortable for me. I’m also white, female, and cisgendered. So there’s not a lot for cops to go on when approaching me with regard to prejudice. I am very privileged in my interactions with law enforcement.

As I have gotten older, my world view with regard to law enforcement has changed drastically. I have seen things from the perspective of other people whose interactions with the police are not all sunshine and rainbows, as mine have been. I follow the news. I see the brutality that is out there. My growing pains in this area have been extreme, to say the least.

This morning I woke up to find a friend had posted a link to a viral video of a group of police officers violently assaulting pedestrians for jaywalking. Early on Friday morning, Jeremy Kingg, Lou Glen, Matt Wallace, and Rolando Ramiro were walking home. They crossed a street at a crosswalk where the symbol indicated “do not walk.” In short order, several police officers confronted them and asked for IDs. The incident then escalated, with the police shoving and slamming Wallace and Kingg against the wall and then to the ground, handcuffing them, and hauling them to a police car. When the men asked what crime they had committed, the officers said that they had “crossed against the light.”

The behavior of the cops in this case is completely inexcusable. And this isn’t the first time that Austin has had a problem with cops over-zealously policing jaywalking. The case last year involved a female jogger and famously resulted in a statement by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo where he stated that:

At the end of the day, that officer has to stop them somehow. He didn’t tackle her to the ground, you know, it’s kind of interesting what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lord that there’s a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually had the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them ‘Oh my goodness, Austin Police, we’re trying to get your attention.’ Whew! In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.

I barely even know what to say in response to that. Terrorizing people isn’t OK. Police officers are supposed to serve and protect. And the fact that these officers didn’t sexually assault that woman or tackle her to the ground isn’t something they get cookies for. You don’t get a party thrown for NOT being a rapist or a bully. That shit should be the norm. That’s the BASE LINE for human fucking decency. Along with not brutalizing people for no fucking reason.

The shocking thing to me is how inured to all of this we have become as a society.

At the bottom of the article I linked above regarding the brutality Friday morning, there is a line break, beneath which is the following small paragraph:

Ramiro did an excellent job recording the insanity. Note how he recorded holding the phone horizontally. Note the difference from the usual vertical videos. Make it instinct to record horizontally. Not enough people do.

The fact that we have gotten to the point where we have a stock pile of video taken of police behaving badly is terrible to begin with. And while I’m glad that people are learning from the techniques used in earlier videos so that we can better document brutality when we see it, the fact that this problem is so deeply embedded and ongoing that we need lasting, effective techniques? That is, to me, a sign that we are seriously fucked.

Black Lives Matter: Sandra Bland

It seems as if I wake up every day to the sound of another name. Like a gunshot. They ring out over social media.

This week it was Sandra Bland.

I didn’t know who she was last month. Last year. She wasn’t a friend. Wasn’t someone I knew. But I knew her story as soon as the hashtag popped up on Twitter.


I already knew what happened. A moment of digging into a link posted by a friend yielded the details.

She was 28 years old. Younger than me. But she was vocal like me. Specifically, she was vocal about police abuse. Like me.

The difference between the two of us was that Sandra was a black woman. And there are consequences for being a vocal black woman that there are not on the table for me as a vocal white woman.

They found Sandra dead in her cell in police custody on July 13th.

The initiated a federal investigation on the 16th. They thought she might have been murdered.

Then they released the dashcam footage yesterday. And it did not come anywhere close to exonerating the police. I will not share the video here. You can go and look for it. I watched it once and I will never watch it again.

A summary, though, for those of you who want to avoid watching it.

In the video, officer Brian Encinia pulls her over. After a brief exchange, he tells her to put out her cigarette. She refuses. He asks her to step out of the car. When she refuses, they argue for a minute until he tells her to get out of the car again and threatens to “light her up” with his taser. Then he moves to arrest her on the sidewalk, out of view of the dashcam. There is some kind of physical altercation on the sidewalk, out of view, and Sandra is arrested.

Far from exonerating the officers, this video was troubling to it’s very core. She was being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. She is not required to put out her cigarette during a traffic stop. There was no reason for the officer to have her exit the vehicle. And the sound of the scuffle off where the cameras can’t see was disturbing in the extreme.

Today, the latest news is that the video appears to have been edited. Which just makes everything worse. It’s clear that the footage has been doctored within the week that has passed since Sandra’s death. In the video, the footage appears to have been looped and edited several times, with cars appearing and disappearing and people walking out of the frame multiple times.

I just… the thing that keeps getting to me about all of the deaths and abuse that we have been seeing is the brazen way that they are perpetrated.

It’s obvious that Sandra’s death was wrongful with even a cursory glance at the facts. It’s obvious that she did not need to be arrested. It’s obvious that the officer’s behavior was out of line. It’s obvious that the video was doctored.

And yet, as with all of these cases, I hold out no hope that Sandra’s killers will see justice done. At most, they will get fired or something. They won’t stand trial for her murder. They won’t suffer for the way that she suffered.

It’s horrible to feel the truth of that. The immunity that police enjoy in these cases. Because really, every time this happens, it erodes my faith in the justice system a little more. It takes away from the ability of people of color in this country to feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It erodes the ability of good cops to do their jobs safely.

The more this happens, the more we lose. I just wish someone in government would wake up and see that and do something.

McKinney: Part Two

Today seems heavy and sad. I woke up to more news about McKinney.

Apparently the cops were called to respond to the physical attack against Tatiana Rose. However, when they showed up, they immediately went to work corralling and bullying the black kids who were at the pool. The pool apparently has a rule about how many guests that you can have at a given time. A rule that Tatiana’s mother says is never enforced, except, apparently, when black kids show up. The pool people are also saying now that they never approved the party in the first place. A claim that I find dubious in the extreme.

Brandon Brooks, 15, who shot the video, has since spoken out regarding events as he saw them unfold, saying:

When he pulled his gun my heart dropped. As soon as he pulled out his gun, I thought he was going to shoot that kid. That was very scary… I was one of the only white people in the area when that was happening. You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kinda like skips over me and tells all my African-American friends to go sit down.

I talked yesterday about the privilege of white bodies in a racially charged space. At the time I was under the mistaken impression that the person recording the video was the person speaking up about being related in some way to Adrian, the young man who was hauled into the shot toward the end of the video (and about whom I can find not a single news item or mention). Since Adrian is black, I assumed the videographer was as well. Which was, of course, a foolish assumption. Because I doubt Brooks would have been allowed to continue filming had he not been white.

People are talking about how Cpl Casebolt should have, logically, been on his best behavior since he knew he was being recorded. I don’t know which is the more terrifying conclusion of that train of thought: That Casebolt was on his best behavior during the events of Friday afternoon, or what might have happened if Brooks had not been there and shooting the entire time.

This whole horrible mess has brought up the painful history of segregation and, specifically, the role that pools have played in that segregation. As pointed out in an article in The Atlantic yesterday:

As African Americans fought for desegregation in the 1950s, public pools became frequent battlefields. In Marshall, Texas, for example, in 1957, a young man backed by the NAACP sued to force the integration of a brand-new swimming pool. When the judge made it clear the city would lose, citizens voted 1,758-89 to have the city sell all of its recreational facilities rather than integrate them. The pool was sold to a local Lions’ Club, which was able to operate it as a whites-only private facility.

People are trying to argue that what happened on Friday isn’t about race. There are even black people from McKinney making that argument, saying that their neighborhood is an integrated one and that they have never had trouble with their neighbors. Far be it for me to tell someone from a marginalized community that they are wrong about their experiences. I am glad beyond words that those people feel safe and comfortable within their communities.

That said, I want to challenge the assumption that a community that treats it’s black residents well can not suffer from the impact of racism. Just because a community is not putting on white hoods and trying to run you out of town with burning crosses does not mean that an isolated incident within that community is devoid of racism. I am so happy for residents of the Craig Ranch community that they do not experience racialized violence or aggression in their everyday life. But I do not believe that anyone could reasonably look at the reaction of those officers on Friday and say that it does not have something to do with race. Or at the actions of grown white women throwing racial slurs at a teenage girl. Or at the authorities of the pool who manage to overlook the guest rule until the population of the pool becomes too black for their comfort.

Increasingly, we live in a world of racism with no racists. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says:

“The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits. The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

We tend to think of racism as having something to do with the words that people say. But many people nowadays know that it’s not acceptable to say the “n-word” or to vocally discriminate based on the color of someone’s skin. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and in the case of racism the actions that are continually taken against people of color have not gone away entirely, they have merely gotten less obvious to white people.

Racism is by no means dead, it simply hides in microagressions and in discriminatory policies enacted every day while white people protest that they can’t be racist because they “can’t see race” – thus obliterating the heritage of the people around them – or that they “have black friends” – as if their friends are a trophy or a badge of honor that put them above such things as racial profiling.

When a bunch of black children are violently suppressed at an end of year pool party, when they have guns pulled on them merely for being in a place, when they are told to “go back to their section 8 housing,” there is no word for that type of behavior other than racist.

Get Outraged: Police brutality in McKinney, Texas

Content Advisory: For those of you who did not choose to watch the video of the events in McKinney, Texas this past Friday, be aware that I have provided a description of two portions of the video that could be upsetting to some. I will include a warning before detailing those portions of the video.

I am saying this mostly because I know so many people for whom this is too close to their hearts to speak. I am going to try to articulate events as clearly as possible.

Over the weekend a video surfaced of police officers descending upon a pool party attended by a group of teenagers. In the video, the police attempt to gain control of the situation by brutalizing, belittling, terrorizing, and manhandling a crowd of local teens.

Here is what I have been able to glean from the numerous articles that have been published over the weekend. It appears that the original altercation occurred because several white members of the community began hurling racial slurs at the teens who were having a pool party. The girl who was throwing the party, identified as Tatiana Rhodes, 19, is a member at the pool. According to Tatiana in the video linked above, all of the teens who were attending are members of the surrounding community. Additional video has surfaced of two adult white women locked in a physical altercation with Tatiana before the police arrived.

I, like many of you, resisted watching the video at first. I knew that what I would see would be terrible just from reading the comments I had seen on my social media outlets. Do not watch the video if you think that you would be upset by watching this type of brutality. For those of you who have opted to avoid watching what transpired this Friday in McKinney, Texas, I will summarize, Having finally watched it this morning.

[CA: Do not read the next two paragraphs if you think you would be upset by reading about the brutality in the video.]

The video shows a police officer (who has since been placed on administrative leave) bullying and shouting at teenagers. You can see several cop cars and what I believe can safely be called an overwhelming police presence. At one point, the officer around whom the video centers pulls his gun and runs off screen. He returns dragging a 15 year old girl, who he swings around and manhandles to the ground like a rag doll. He then proceeds to kneel on her back. The girl is sobbing and screaming for those around her to “Call my mama! Oh my god!” One of her friends is standing by with a cell phone and does just that.

While the officer threatens and chases after the young people who have gathered around the girl on the ground, two more officers drag into the frame a young man, handcuffed and dazed. The camera man immediately responds to the young man being brought onto the scene by asking him if he is all right. Adrian (or maybe Andrew?) is placed on the ground on his back. He is breathing heavily and appears to be in respiratory distress. His face appears slack in the video and it is hard to discern whether or not there is blood on his mouth and chin. The camera man repeatedly asks him whether or not he is all right, telling bystanders that he is his cousin, but the young man appears unable to respond.

The rage that I felt watching this video was overwhelming. And there was one person in particular at whom my rage was directed.

Of course I hated the police officer sitting on the sobbing girl in her bikini. I hated him for whipping his gun out and threatening these children. I hated the officers responding to the scene for not directing their authority at the women who had attacked a teenage girl before they arrived. I hated the officers dragging Adrian helpless and limp to the scene. I hated these officers for the pain and fear that I saw in the faces of these kids. I hated them for their failure as police officers to represent themselves and the uniforms they wore with dignity and honor. Overall I despised them for their actions as people in a position of learning and authority who chose not to employ empathy or direct their authority in a helpful and non-violent way.

But there was someone I hated more.

Roaming back and forth and creating a perimeter for the police officer is an older white man. During the course of the video, he actively takes a stance between the officer and the teenagers at one point when the cop is wrestling the girl to the ground. He stands by. He lurks. He ensures that the cop is not interrupted. His white presence being allowed to wander the scene freely is a really strong counterpoint to the bodies of black teenagers as they are corralled and shouted at to leave the vicinity or handcuffed and forced to lay down on their faces.

Watching this video I wanted to leap through my computer screen and shake that man. I wanted to push him down and yell at him. I wanted to say “How can you let this happen to children? How can you be a bystander and allow this kind of abuse to continue? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

I wanted to shout him into allyhood. I wanted to ignite him with my rage and turn him back against the men he was smugly and separately observing. It kills me to see people with so much privilege squander it in support of such odious behavior. Being a white male in that situation put this man in a unique position to challenge the officers involved with little to no fear of violent reciprocation. And for that, I hated him.

It should be noted that he was not the only white male taking this position in the video, just the most active. There were several more men milling around on the scene. And their presence was no more positive than his. I spent the entire video waiting for a single white person to walk up to the police and tell them that they were in the wrong. Instead, videos from various angles show these men walking up to the young people trying to defend their friends and telling them to leave.

With everything I have just said, I feel that it must be said that I am deeply ashamed of the behavior of white people in these videos. I feel overwhelming shame that people who look like me could not muster the strength or sanity to stand up for the children in their community against the obviously racist system they were up against this past Friday.

We should do better. We can do better. We need to do more.

There are a lot of things that are still unclear about this story, as it is still developing.

With all of that said, I have the following questions:

  • Why were the women who attacked the young girl who was throwing the party not arrested?
  • Why, when the police were called to deal with an altercation between a teenage girl and an adult woman, was more than one police car sent to the scene?
  • Why did every child at the pool need to be harassed and corralled to deal with an altercation between two older women and a young girl?
  • Why did a 15 year old girl need to be chased down and sat on by a fully grown police officer?
  • What happened to Adrian? Why was he detained at all? Will the police responsible for his treatment be penalized?

More than anything, I will never understand why the police who showed up on the scene in such great numbers were unable to utilize their considerable training in order to deal with an altercation between a small number of people without terrorizing and brutalizing the teens in the vicinity. The fact that this entire altercation began because of the hurling of racial slurs that escalated to racially-motivated violence by adults against teenagers feeds my fury on behalf of these kids and their families.

I hope against all recent evidence that this event will end in punishment being meted out against the officers involved. Their behavior was egregious and unacceptable.

7:00PM EDIT: The officer involved in the incident has been identified as Corporal Eric Casebolt. Cpl Casebolt has previously been charged with profiling, harassment, failure to render aid and sexual assault back in 2008.