By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | NewBlackMan (in Exile
Thursday, June 11, 2015.
As a practice I rarely share video footage of the on-going assaults on Black humanity in the United States. Such footage seems a diversion to me; simply the ocular confirmation of the always already known, the always already seen; body cameras ain’t nothing but a cliche of power. More to the point, our seeming addiction to the sharing of such footage often takes away from the building that is necessary to move towards some semblance of freedom, whether we define it as the freedom to or the freedom from; neither have been consistently available to Black bodies in this country.
Admittedly I was stunned by the footage that emerged from McKinney, Texas, a suburb of Dallas-Forth-Worth and a city regularly cited as one of the fastest growing in the United States. Apparently it is also a city in which the very sight of Black Youth illicit a level of panic, that necessitates the emergence of law enforcement as a temporary occupying force and as agents of forced removal.
What we see in that video is not anything new; Black children have long been criminalized for being children and acting accordingly. White youth are not immune to acting stupid, but rarely do their acts of stupidity have them sitting on well manicured lawns wearing plastic bracelets awaiting their introduction to the criminal justice system. Too many Black children are denied the opportunity to be children, in a society in which Black adults are rendered as animals--something less than human--and Black children are treated as adults. Creating spaces for my daughters to be children has been one of the most important things that my wife and I have done as parents.
Yet what what tore at my spirit was not simply what I saw, but what I heard: “Keep running your mouth...” a provocation from one of those said law enforcement officers, directed at a 14-year-old Black girl, whose only crime was being a Black girl who had the critical capacity to interpret her circumstances and those of her peers, and raise legitimate concerns about the absurdity of those circumstances. I have known many Black girls who would have acted the same way; I am helping to raise two of them.
The footage that ensues after that initial provocation is chilling; a grown-ass man, tosses a 14-year-old girl like she was the ragdoll she was likely still playing with three years earlier. The officer--too respectful of a term in my mind--then proceeds to slam the girl’s face into the grass while placing his knee on her back; he likely outweighs her by 70 pounds. Too be sure we’d be hard-pressed to think of an example of 13 or 14-year-old White girl would be treated in such manner.
The 14-year-old Black girl, of course, posed no threat to the officer’s safety, but she was to be made an explicit example of his power, which she challenged, because she was willing to speak her mind; “keeping running your mouth…(and see what will happen).”
The exchange and subsequent violence resonated with me, sot simply because I’m the parent of Black girls, but because I have spent the better part the the current school year, advocating on behalf of my youngest daughter, who like the young girl in the video is unafraid to read a situation and speak the truth of the moment. Like the teachers who have chastised my daughter for “talking back” or “getting in the face” of her peers, I can easily imagine that officer viewing my daughter as a threat to his sense of power. This is about more than law enforcement practices, but the ways our children are sanctioned, punished and policed within institutions empowered to regulate them.
The difficulty of this moment is weighing an appropriate response to my daughters, given the punitive reactions to their ability to articulate critical intellectual sensibilities about the world they live in.
It is their right as children -- as humans -- to speak as children do; it’s my job to protect that right.