Here is something that astounds me: in video after video, we see a white, male cop unnecessarily brutalizing a black female who had failed to immediately defer to the cop’s authority, and law enforcement quickly declares that race was not a factor in the violence. By now, many of us have seen one of the recent videos of the white Sheriff Deputy Ben Fields taking down the black South Carolina high school girl, slamming her to the classroom floor. She had committed the offense of texting during class, and she was absolutely brutalized for her transgression. Consider our country’s shameful history of subjugating black people. Then consider that events such as the one in the South Carolina school often immediately follow a black person failing to promptly obey a white cop’s directive (in that incident, the girl didn’t get up when ordered to leave the classroom). Is there really any question that there are racial undertones to the violence?
Sheriff Leon Lott was quick to dismiss that race could have played any role in the South Carolina classroom violence, stating that because Deputy Fields was dating a black woman there could be no racial undertone. As if dating a woman of color immunizes a person from subconsciously believing that women of color should submit to a white man’s authority.
And remember the video of the Texas pool party, where the white cop slammed a young black girl to the pavement, waved his gun at her, and pushed her face to the ground with his knee in her back? The officer involved, Eric Casebolt, had a history of racial profiling. The kids at the party reported that the cops were only targeting teens of color. And, again, there was a distinct element of the black teens not deferring to the white cop’s authority. Immediately before he attacked, Casebolt yelled at a group of girls to not “keep standing there running [their] mouths.” When a girl leaving the party turned back to Casebolt, saying something to him, he grabbed her and dragged her to the ground. Yet, as if it settles the matter, the local police union issued a statement assuring “without a shadow of a doubt” that Casebolt’s violence was not racially motivated. But, again, it is hard to escape noticing that the totally unnecessary violence followed a black girl talking back to a white cop.
Similarly, recall the video of Sandra Bland, the black woman driving through Waller County, Texas, on her way to her new job, who was not deferential when the cops stopped her for failing to signal a lane change. She ended up dead in a Texas jail cell a few days later. After stopping Ms. Bland for a traffic violation, the white cop made a series of demands – that she put out her cigarette, that she get out of the car – and he got visibly more and more agitated as Ms. Bland refused to obey him. Again, the sheriff insisted that race did not play a part in the arrest that followed. But it’s unmistakably the same pattern. And, it’s worth noting that a judge in Waller County has called Waller “the most racist county in the state of Texas which is probably one of the most racist states in the country.”
Am I saying that in each of these incidents, the white cop was a raving racist who deliberately attacked a black woman solely because she was black? No. But I am saying that there are often racial undertones to the violence, even where the players aren’t consciously aware of a racial motivation. Our country has a long history of white people requiring deference from black people, first as obedient slaves, and then later as second class citizens. So, it’s not surprising that some white officers feel almost viscerally offended when black people do not show them sufficient respect – they’ve been raised to believe it’s their due. This sort of bias is often subconscious, rather than overt racism, but that does not make it less real or less troubling. When you put it all together, when you look at incident after incident of unnecessary white cop violence on black children/women/men, you cannot keep saying it’s not about race.