“If those were my sons, somebody would have to post my bail money.”
That was my first thought when I watched the now-viral video of white police officers—allegedly responding to disturbances at a private pool party in McKinney, Texas—throwing black teenage boys to the ground and handcuffing them.
When, in the same video, I watched a white officer grab a 14-year-old black girl roughly by her hair and throw her facedown to the ground, before sitting his fully clothed, rotund body on her thin, bare back, my thoughts became even more intense.
Clearly, these are visceral reactions and not the “We-shall-overcome-let-Jesus-and-justice-handle-it” way that black people are expected to respond to state-sanctioned violence against our children, but black rage is inevitable in the face of anti-black racism. And right now? That’s all I got.
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Yes, it was painful to watch the boys restrained in handcuffs. One boy even appeared to be bleeding from his mouth, though whatever happened to cause that injury happened off-camera. Still, it is the young girl, forced by her hair to the ground as she screamed for her mother, that chilled me the most. It’s the pleasure the white officer seemed to take from exerting power over her black body—as adult men, both black and white, stood by and did nothing—that enraged me.
It is the thought of Daniel Holtzclaw, the former Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting eight black women while on duty—and what the officer in this case possibly does to young black women when the cameras aren’t rolling—that made me sick to my stomach.
There are various accounts at this point. There’s what the McKinney Police Department had to say, both on Facebook and in a hasty press conference. At this point, though, in the aftermath of the extrajudicial killings of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Walter Scott, most of us know that any words coming from police should be considered lies by default until visual proof is provided that corroborates their version of events.
Then there’s the statement that teens in attendance at the pool party gave to Buzzfeed News. They insist that white adults in the neighborhood where the party was being held called them racial slurs and told them to go back to their “Section 8” housing. In a video posted to YouTube, Tatiana Rhodes said that she was not only called names, but was also assaulted by two white women after she checked them on their racist language.
Outside of the warring description of events given by the teens and the police officers—$5 will get you $10 if you can guess which version of events I believe—this is what we know to be true:
* Only the black teens (as shown in the video) were assaulted, restrained and treated like wayward chattel in need of physical discipline. The white teens are walking around freely.
* At least two white teens literally argue over who can return a dropped flashlight to an officer while their black “friends” are simultaneously being thrown to the ground.
* As the white teens gleefully approach, one of the officers greets them with a jaunty, “What’s up, man?” When they hand him the flashlight, he responds with a kind, “Thank you.”
* As a white girl on the scene insists that they had nothing to do with any problems—“It was those guys”—Officer Friendly responds, “OK, guys, I appreciate you. They’re free to go.”
* At the video’s conclusion, only black children have been violated.
This is further evidence that our children are positioned on a seesaw of white hypocrisy and black respectability on the derelict playground of American racism. From pulpits and bully pulpits in congregations and constituencies across this country, black people are preached to about our so-called pathology, while white privilege remains as protected as Josh Duggar in the state of Arkansas.
This white supremacist infrastructure is constructed to keep our children gridlocked while their white counterparts cruise on by in the high-occupancy vehicle lane. And at each checkpoint, there are monsters in uniform who will desecrate their black flesh and tap dance on their bones without giving it a minute’s thought.
Over the last few months, I’ve written quite a bit about implicit and explicit racial bias. I’ve discussed the ways in which police officers instinctively dehumanize black children on sight and treat them accordingly. Black parents live with the knowledge that our children are perceived as increasingly dangerous threats the closer they are in proximity to whiteness. This is true even when it’s their lives that are often at risk.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, in his study, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.” (pdf) The study gauged white police officers’ prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes.
According to Goff, “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”
The same is true for black girls, quiet as it’s kept.
This is why “f--k the police” is a spiritual exorcism in some corners of black America—a mournful wail, an enraged scream that echoes through past generations as we recognize those sworn to protect us for the overseers they really are.
During his press conference, McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley said no one was injured, further proof that black pain is never entered into the equation. These children could have been killed at any moment for playing at what should have been labeled a “whites only” pool.
They know it; we know it. And the emotional and psychological injuries they endured will manifest in their lives for years to come.