Recently harrowing footage of a police officer brutally attacking a black teenage girl in a bikini went viral. Watching events unfold is nauseating as the officer grabs the barely-clad teenager by the hair and throws her to the ground, proceeding to restrain her with his entire body. When two teenage boys try to help her the officer chases them off–with his weapon drawn.
Luckily no one was killed that day, although roughly 70 individuals were exposed to racist threats by neighbors, were harassed by police, and terrified for their lives.
We are all way too aware of how horribly this could have gone down.
As usual, when footage like this comes out I grit my teeth and hunker down for the onslaught of flippant casually racist bullshit that will spew out of white people’s mouths over this event. I don’t have to go into it. From people actually using the word “n***ers,” to searching for any reason these teens could have been suspected (maybe she had a knife hidden in the five square inches of fabric covering her body!) we’ve all seen the nonsense white people vomit out of their mouths.
But let me address one particularly insidious response:
If I were a black kid, I’d do x, y, and z if I was confronted with the police.
I’ve seen this argument over and over. One person even wrote on facebook, “Have a sense of preservation, for God’s sake.”
This argument aggravates me to no end because clearly the person making the argument has at least enough creative empathy to go that far. They can at least start a sentence with, “If I were a black kid.” But their little walk in someone else’s shoes stops there, and the rest of that sentence conveys how they would act as a white person. Because let me tell you something, white folks making this argument:
You’re NOT a black kid. This is NOT your experience. Stop pretending.
Saying, “If I were a black kid, I’d get down when a cop told me to get down” implies that you trust your bodily safety to those police officers. It implies that you believe these officers are rational and “must have some reason” to be asking you to get down. It implies that you haven’t seen kid after kid murdered by police. It implies that your first human instinct is to fall down, not to run. It implies that if you behave, you won’t get hurt. We have seen over and over again that this is not the case for black youth who are approached by racist police.
Your response is not empathetic. You are claiming to have insight into the Black experience while refusing to acknowledge the Black experience. Sit down.
Because the reality is that white people insist with their words and actions that there is no correct way to behave as a black person. Across time in this country white people have used “bad behavior,” from whistling to selling loose cigarettes, as a valid excuse for gruesome violence against black people. In this very instance of the kids at the pool, we have an example of white people calling the police simply because their presence at a pool party was perceived by whites as threatening. It would appear that the only bad behavior here was being in public while black. We used to hang people from trees for this grave transgression. Now, we just call the police.
Fellow white people, don’t be that white person who excuses modern-day lynching. Let’s please NOT use this moment to chastise the teenagers who were injured and traumatized by this officer. There was no excuse for his behavior. The full burden of shame lies on the officer. Instead of inventing useless hypotheticals insisting what we would do if we were black kids, let’s actually exercise our empathy and speak out against racist police. Let’s also speak out against the kind of racism that insists black people are not welcome in white spaces.