Friday, June 12, 2015
Black Teen and White Officer--You Know the Rest: The McKinney Pool Party.
How did we ever do justice before YouTube?
The latest case of caught on camera crime being tried in the court of public opinion is the McKinney pool part fiasco in which a white officer was involved in a fight with a black teen.
Hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar...
If you want a detailed report of what happened, Vice has one here.
The skinny is the officer in question tells a group of girls at the scene of the action to leave. The girls drag their feet, but eventually acquiesce, at least most of them.
One girl moves away, but continues to loiter around and makes her presence known to the officer after he yells profanity at the girls who are walking away.
The officer goes to detain her, she resists, and a nasty struggle ensues in which the officer at one point draws his weapon on two teens running up on him, ending with the teen girl flat on her stomach with the officer's knees in her back.
What are we to make of all this?
On the one hand, growing up in the ghetto, I can remember the police showing up to our town's "cheap" pool more than once to cart away some unruly kids.
Maybe that's why I watched most of the video with something less than amazement.
Welp, summer in the hood.
However, the physical arrest of the young girl was truly disturbing.
Some reflection is in order.
Firstly, is any of this about race?
From the video alone, the two principal arguments for racial bias are (1.) the targeting of black teens (and converse ignoring of white teens) by the officer and (2.) the use of excessive force against the teenage girl.
On the first point, the officer explains, in view of the camera, why he sat the black kids down: they fled upon the arrival of the police, after being told to stay put.
That seems like a reasonable justification.
If the cops arrive at the scene of a problem and people run away, the runners make themselves look guilty and open themselves up to questioning by the police.
Because, as far as the video shows, no white kids ran, no white kids attracted police discipline in that manner.
Therefore, it seems the motivation of the officer in disciplining the teens was not a difference of race, but of reaction to police presence at the gathering.
What about the second proof for racism?
This is harder.
What I hope my white friends will understand is it is exceedingly difficult for some, not all, but some black people, including myself, to conceptualize or visualize what the officer did to the black girl being done to a white girl of the same age, physical stature, etc.
We don't have to imagine the reverse; we can simply watch the video.
Therefore, the leap to racially motivated injustice emerges against the backdrop of a compound, collective memory of police brutality not been experienced systemically by white people in our country.
On the other hand, perception is not necessarily reality, and I also disagree the physical altercation was racially motivated, but see it as the result of too much adrenaline and too little self-control.
The important question not being asked by those who think the tussling in the grass was about race is, not would this have happened if the kids were white, but would this have happened if the officer had stayed calm or if the girl had walked away.
The answer to the race question is totally debatable; the answer to the second and third are almost certain.
So were the officer's actions justified?
Here I defer to the McKinney police chief:
"The actions of the officer that you saw on the video, at the disturbance at the community pool are indefensible. Our policies, our training, our practice do not support his actions. He came into the call out of control and as the video shows, was out of control during the incident. I had 12 officers on the scene and 11 of them performed according to their training."
As I categorically disagree with those who have made this about race; I also disagree with those who have defended the "out of control" actions of the officer, whether it be the harried running around, the cussing, the gun pointing, or the measures used to restrain the teen girl.
Finally, what larger lessons can we draw from this?
First, these things always look worse than they are.
And by "these things", I mean the never-ending us versus them, white versus black fear mongering and hate-slinging we, the American public, have been subjected to, particularly since the Trayvon Martin killing.
Every day most us go to work, pick up our kids, do our grocery shopping, attend church, go to school, play sports, and interact with friends and family without severe incident, and any race based issues that pop up are the exception.
So when the media tries to convince us we're in an all out race war, we need to remember we are seeing a few incidents being blown up into something larger than they are.
Second, fake racist outrage brings out real racist sentiments. For example, reacting to the McKinney case and the officer's resignation, a 4th grade Texas teacher took to Facebook, suggesting we might revert to segregation. "Maybe the 50s and 60s were really on to something", she wrote.
She was, of course, fired.
Every time we kick the hornet's nest and cast an unfortunate event like the McKinney one as racial when it's not, racists still come buzzing out ready to sting, turning what was never about race into something unavoidably about race.
Third, if you as a modern black person living in America are not content with how society looks at you as a black person in America, you will always be discontented. This is because we are living in unparalleled and unprecedented liberty.
You will also be easy pickings for those profiting off black feelings of despondency and marginalization, who turn urban woes into the problem of an unassailable colossal white power structure as opposed to...well...about anything else.
No, everything is not rosy, but the idea of systemic injustice against black people needs to be seriously re-thought. I believe what we see most often is personal racism, not structural racism, and thus need to hold individuals accountable, not try to overhaul complete systems.
Third, cameras are only as good as the story they tell.
Even with seven minutes of raw, unedited video, exactly what happened in McKinney that day isn't easy to ascertain.
We also can't see that the officer who caused a good share of the hoopla reportedly responded to two suicide calls before arriving to pool incident, possibly impacting his behavior.
I am thankful for cameras, but we cannot assume because we saw it on video, we know everything that happened.
Finally, if as Christians we are more interested in taking sides than rising above the situation to minister Christ, shame on us.
Shame. On Us.
The last thing the world needs to see is a Christian reaction that looks nothing like Christ. We shouldn't want to take anyone's side unless it's his.
And that goes for me to.
As a black man, I am indignant when I hear how black people are the problem. And as the son of white parents, I am indignant when I hear how white people are the problem.
However, as a Christian, I know the problem is we live among people whose hearts have not been touched by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Young and old, white and black--all people regardless of demographics are in desperate need of a heart transplant only God can perform and an outlook on life only He can give.
God calls us to respect all people and administer justice.
Those practices alone could fundamentally transform our communities, our relationships, and our hearts, if we let them.