Once upon a time, I watched the video of Rodney King being beaten by police officers in abject horror and wondered what in the world he did to have deserved it. It didn’t seem like anyone should’ve been subjected to a beating like that, BUT I knew there had to have been more to the story than what the media was initially portraying.
Of course, I was right. This wasn’t about race. He was a convicted felon who led officers on a high speed chase to avoid being caught driving under the influence, a violation of his parole. Yes, the officers used excessive force, BUT if he’d just pulled over when they first tried to stop him, none of this would’ve happened.
The officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive force. They were acquitted. I again watched in horror as riots ensued and a city I loved burned. Still disbelieving that this could be about race, my twenty-two-year-old self muttered intelligent things like, “If they want to be taken seriously, this isn’t the way to do it.”
I was a fool.
We don’t “need all the facts” to see clearly that in this video, a white male police officer straddles a young, defenseless black girl in a bathing suit, shoves her face into the ground, and then sits on top of her for several minutes. When a few of her teenage friends try to come to her aid, the cop pulls a gun on them. This is inexcusable. This is misogyny and racism and excessive force. And perhaps the saddest thing is that my black friends, as angry as they are, are not surprised. I am surprised because I am white, because I am privileged, because I have not had to face racial profiling all my life, because no one looked at me sideways when I showed up to a pool without a pass for a party as a teenager. The reason “Black Lives Matter” has become a mantra is not because advocates for racial justice are unaware that all lives matter. They know that. “Black Lives Matter” has become a mantra because black bodies are consistently deemed less valuable than white bodies in this country. And as so many black women know, their bodies in particular are often regarded as property, just as we see in this video. What happened to this girl and her friends was a violation of their humanity and therefore a violation of the image of God within each of them. May it spark holy outrage and a commitment to radical change.
Of course it didn’t spark holy outrage and commitment to radical change. Later, author Jen Hatmaker also addressed the video on her page commenting: The McKinney video has me trembling. Words are failing me. Kids everywhere at a pool party. Only the black kids detained, cuffed, and thrown to the ground. When that tiny girl was thrown to the ground by her hair and kneeled on by that officer while she sobbed and cried for her mama, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I cannot believe not one adult stepped in to defend these children. Christ have mercy.
I watched the video and sobbed. I wanted to reach through my computer monitor and stop it. I imagined what I would do if I were there in the flesh and I can tell you that I would be sitting on my butt in a cell right now without a doubt. Holy outrage doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.
And then I began to read the comments on Jen’s post and my blood boiled. Calls for her to “simmer down”, not “jump to conclusions”, and calling her an “Al Sharpton.” Okay. Breathe. But then the BUT posts became the norm. The ones I was familiar with from my Rodney King days.
“yes, the cop over reacted. BUT the kids also need to listen.”
“I am not saying the way it was handled was ok by any stretch. BUT everyone is saying poor pitiful kids who bullied the residents before the cops arrived! Bottom line, if the kids weren’t there, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“BUT if the kids would have stopped the nonsense & listened to the cops, it would never have gone to this.”
“Yes the officer seemed to take it a bit to far BUT she very clearly was resisting.”
“The cop over-reacted for sure, BUT good grief, how many times did he tell her to quit running her mouth and to leave?”
The posts that excuse the brutalization because, basically, she had it coming. She deserved this.
Its obvious that most of us have missed the point entirely, and that is what’s discouraging. When will we stop justifying brutality with the excuse that the abused had it coming? It’s not about the party circumstances. Each of those kids could have been at fault and non-compliant. You don’t treat anyone like that. Especially a minor. If you need to make an arrest then do so in a controlled manner. Your rage cannot dictate your actions. You wear the badge. You don’t draw a weapon unless you fear for your safety. This was gross abuse of power: Plain and simple. In today’s polite society, most people are not actively racist. The problem is so many of us are passively racist, or maybe classist is a better term for it. We love African Americans, so long as they behave. We even have friends from that community, we claim as some kind of trump card for saying every other offensive opinion that we harbor or share. Those friends—they likely enjoy the same socioeconomic status as we do, and they are probably well spoken and always say please and thank you. They don’t talk too loud or ask for a handout. We love the African American community, as long as it stays in its place and doesn’t mess up ever. Because apparently as long as you’re misbehaving, or out too late, or play your music too loud, or knock on the wrong door, or talk back to an officer, or steal a bag of chips, or go into a Walmart, or sell loose cigarettes, it’s completely justified to be completely dehumanized or worse. You had it coming the moment you stepped out of line. The ugly truth is that I as a white man retain the liberty to reason and protest against police abuse of power. My African American brothers and sisters do not. Unless they sit quiet and shut up when they’re in trouble, then all bets are off and we’re all ok with it. God forgive us. —Travis Shillington
And most have no idea it’s even a thing. That we harbor passive racism in our hearts and we are shocked when something like this hits the news and “the race baiting begins.” Because it’s never about race for us. We’re white. It doesn’t have to be. We sit back and, as some strange rationalization, think black people enjoy “playing the victim” as we like to call it. Yeah. Because being victimized is something we all aspire to. And so we do what we do and start calling for all the “facts” and posting links and spewing details so we can prove that this really wasn’t about race.
When, if we had a heart at all, we would just shut the hell up and lament. But, if we can’t do that, maybe instead of fact-spewing, we can ask questions. Why do black people think it’s about race? Why is there underlying tension with police? What is “white privilege” and why does it make me so angry when people say it?
These are the first steps to healing, to a changed heart, to an open mind. It can take the BUT right out of you.
Recently, the Duggar scandal was big news. I quietly watched as, in the comment section on article after article, Christians defended Josh Duggar, fully pardoning his “teenage mistakes.” By far, the most over used Scripture in his defense (almost every third comment) was, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)
Yesterday, as a young woman was publicly brutalized and humiliated for teenage mistakes, Christians applauded her victimization by their BUTs. And I have to wonder, where was all the invoking of John 8:7 then?