Editor’s Note: Dorothy A. Brown is a professor of law at Emory University and author of “Critical Race Theory: Cases, Materials, and Problems.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Dorothy Brown: Was McKinney pool party incident about race or justified policing?
Brown: If you imagine officer would have acted same way with white teens, you'd be delusional
The McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident, which blew up into a national news story via a seven-minute video shot by a witness, reminds me of the movie “Rashomon,” where a single event is told from varying and conflicting perspectives.
In one telling of the McKinney story, Officer Eric Casebolt pulls a 14-year-old bikini-clad girl to the ground and kneels on her back to restrain her, maybe raising some concern, but he was justified under the circumstances.
Viewers and other witnesses who took away that version of the story from the video-taped incident say this has nothing to do with race, even though it was a white police officer and everyone being “policed” was black. One woman interviewed by CNN said about Casebolt: “I think he deserves a medal for what he did.” She supports his drawing his weapon on the teenagers because “he was being attacked from behind.”
Besides, goes this version of the story, there was a mob of teenagers who did not leave when the officer asked them to, but defiantly stood there watching and filming. If there weren’t so many of them and if they had listened to Casebolt, who was just doing his job of protecting the community, then none of this would have happened. In other words, the mob’s behavior was the root cause of this mess.
Another view of the incident and the video? A white, out-of-control police officer sees a group of black teenagers, thinks “thugs” and responds accordingly. They see Casebolt yelling at the top of his lungs and cursing at children. Yes, children. This was no mob; this was a group of teens hanging out together having some harmless fun at the pool.
Most of the kids were polite. They said “sir” when speaking to the police. Yet Casebolt appeared angry beyond belief, yelling at children about his having to run in the hot sun. Instead of de-escalating the situation, he made things worse. When the 14-year-old was sitting on the ground, he told her “on your face.” In this version of the story, a grown man picks up a child and pushes her on the ground facedown.
She is thoroughly subdued, but he continues to kneel on her back. Viewers see the officer purposely humiliating a 14-year-old girl who is doing nothing wrong – and is asking for her mother. When did that become a crime? They see her friends trying to help her and Casebolt drawing his weapon in response. They think it is a miracle that no one got shot.
Who’s right? I want to start with a different question: If the 14-year-old had blond hair and blue eyes and all the other children were white, would this movie have a different ending? If you answer this question with a yes, then race had something to do with it. If you answer the question with a no, then you don’t think race is a factor – but you would also be delusional. Watch the video.
Here’s how the white movie would play out. First, it is quite possible that the 911 call is never made. Second, if 911 is called, Casebolt doesn’t view the kids as thugs, but he sees them as his own children, or his nieces and nephews and talks to them appropriately. If the teenagers don’t obey his command, nobody thinks anything of it. What teenager ever listens to authority?
Nothing to see here; no video; no movie; and most importantly no cop suspended, no career in jeopardy.
Race had everything to do with McKinney, Texas, but the movie had a happy ending. The 14-year-old’s family is not planning a funeral today. We can all be thankful for that.