The McKinney Pool Incident and the Trauma of being Black in America

I have a friend who frequently utters the phrase “It’s hard being Black in America.” She typically uses the phrase in lighthearted reference to any one of the many struggles that are unique to the Black American experience.  However I would venture to take that phrase a step further and say that, in light of the numerous incidents that have come to the public’s attention in recent months and the reactions to these incidents by an alarming number of people, it’s not only hard being black in America it’s woefully unsafe. This past weekend I watched that video that was shot at a swimming pool incident in McKinney Texas and by the end of the video I was so upset that I was shaking. I tried to watch it again and I could barely stomach the way I saw those children being treated by someone that society tells them to respect and trust. In the past several months the media has inundated us with images of black bodies being brutalized by law enforcement to the point that many of us may have started to become desensitized to the imagery. But this image shook me in ways that many of the other images had not.

I was first jarred by the language that this supposed respected authority figure chose to use to address a group of children who largely weren’t even old enough to drive a car. I would not allow someone to speak to me in that way, police officer or not.  I was then jarred by the images of him placing children, who were at this point being completely compliant to his maniacal demands, in handcuffs. There was no legitimate reason to handcuff them other than to humiliate them and punish them for “making him run in 30 lbs. of gear.”  But then came the part of the video that shook me to my core. In response to what he viewed as defiance, this fully grown adult male grabbed a bikini clad child that appeared to weigh no more than 100 pounds and flung her forcefully to the ground then proceeded to put his full weight on her back. To make matters worse, when two young men tried to come to the aid of this young girl who was being physically and mentally abused, he pulled out his service weapon and brandished it at them.  My understanding is a weapon is not to be drawn unless the intent is to kill.  So that means this officer threatened to kill two unarmed children for having the audacity to try to come to the aid of a female child who they saw being brutally attacked by a man who was clearly out of control. This type of behavior is absolutely unconscionable, and inexcusable by anyone, let alone a person who is called upon to help.

Before anyone responds to this with anything about the girl’s non-compliance with the officer’s commands I want to pre-emptively tell you to take your comments and shove them into a very dark place. That’s the nicest way I can think of to describe how I feel about your comments.  I don’t want to hear them. I don’t care if the girl was mouthing off, or hadn’t followed his order to leave quickly enough or if she carried out any other perceived act of defiance. That girl had the same right to be on that public street as the white boy behind the camera that filmed this whole incident, who by his own account, was virtually ignored by the officer. That child had broken no laws whatsoever, yet she was treated in a way that would be unsuitable even if she had have committed a crime. If it were her father who we saw flinging her around and humiliating her that way everyone would be calling for her father to be thrown in jail for child abuse, or assault.  So why would a badge and a blue uniform make it okay for a grown man to treat a child that way? Even if he was acting within the bounds of the law, that doesn’t make it right. It just means the law is wrong. After watching that video I concluded that Officer Eric Casebolt is a terrible cop, a complete coward with a very fragile ego, and a despicable human being unworthy to serve the public in any capacity. I hope he’s fired and I wish he could be thrown in jail for assault. At the very least I hope that young lady’s family sues him.

Watching that video was traumatic for me. As I watched I felt like I too was being brutalized by that officer. Then I was further traumatized when after reading articles about the incident I read the comments underneath the articles. I know the comments section is the cesspool of the internet, but I was still shocked by how many people came to those articles and tried to justify the very actions by Officer Casebolt that I saw as completely unjustifiable. I felt like each comment compounded the trauma I had already experienced from watching the video. I think a part of me expected that surely most everyone who saw the same video that I saw would immediately see how out of line this officer was. Even if you’re someone who normally sympathizes with police officers there’s no way that a rational, feeling, human being could see a child abused in that way and take up for the abuser. Then the reality hit me of how irrational and inhumane the type of racism one has to harbor to see those images and not sympathize with a child being brutalized by an adult. As painful as it is to swallow, I have to come to terms with the fact that there is a segment of this society that will see black bodies being violated and instead of being horrified will always think the violence is warranted and will even celebrate the abuse. Two of the biggest traumas of the Black American experience are having to constantly plead for your right to exist and the incessant pursuit of the validation of your humanity.  With every incident that comes to light there are people who ask the question “Will this incident be the turning point in the fight against police brutality?” Or they may ask “Will this be the incident that finally makes people (i.e. white people) realize that what we’ve been saying all along about how we are treated is true?” Yet no incident ever seems to be the one that unilaterally turns white society in our favor.  Having it hit home that no matter how much we plead and no matter how we behave, there are some who will never see Black people as fully human is a deeply saddening and eye opening experience. I realized this a long time ago, I just hate that those children had to see that at such a young age. But sadly those children need to know that living in a society that does not view them as human is extremely dangerous and they have to be constantly vigilant and aware of that fact to survive, literally.

This incident, like the many others we’ve seen before it, further drove home the fact that Black people have to love ourselves and love our people unconditionally because waiting on white society to love us and treat us as fully human is a form of psychological torture that we shouldn’t have to endure.  When I say unconditionally I mean we have to also love the black people that so many black people who “make it” try to disown. If we don’t love them who will? This society is designed to keep a certain segment of the population in bondage, whether it’s the literal physical bondage of incarceration or the bondage of poverty. We can’t turn our backs on those of us who haven’t been as privileged to escape from all the traps designed to keep as many of us as possible in bondage.

We have to love ourselves and each other hard because just dealing with the daily traumas and dangers of being Black in America is enough to warrant therapy. I know other cultures have their own struggles, and I don’t mean to dismiss any of them, but to quote my friend, it truly is hard being Black in America.

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