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30 Signals of Race in the #McKinney, Texas police video: An ethnographic sketch for those who don't see the racial import

June 8, 2015

 

Brandon Brooks released a video he took of #McKinney, Texas police response to an incident at a pool party.  As people watch the video, some are outraged and readily see the racial over- and under-tones.  While others seem unable to grasp the racial signals.  As such, I offer an ethnographic sketch of the video and explicitly identify 30 racial signals.

 

 

 

A young voice screams, "Let's go!" Young people scatter.  The person holding the camera, white and male, speaks of a flashlight and argues with his comrade about who will give the flashlight "to him," perhaps they are speaking of the white-looking policeman they approach talking to a small group of mostly young males of color. Underneath their chatter, one person in the small group of boys comments, "it was them over there. A [unclear] girl over there. She's got like a black eye over there. They discuss a flashlight and to whom it belongs. The young men seem to be signaling where the police should focus their efforts, still the major events that ensue occur in a different direction than the fight and the witnesses' testimony. This begs several questions: Why were witnesses to a fight treated with suspicion? Why were guests to a party criminalized? Stereotype activation? Racial signal #1.

 

A white-looking cop tells the group of boys of color, calmly, "Don't take off running when the cops get here."

A light skin woman says to the cop, without appearing to  be asked, "None of them were involved." Why would a young woman speak to the innocence of young males of color without being prompted? Likely because she's aware of an unspoken narrative of their supposed guilt rooted in erroneous racial stereotypes. Racial signal #2.

 

Quickly afterwards and for what seemed to be less than a few feet away, the camera swoops to another white-looking cop, Eric Casebolt, who drags a young black man to the ground, pushing his head down, yelling, "I told you to stay!" Casebolt comes toward the camera, jousting the end of his flashlight at them, "Get your asses down on the ground!"  The camera view shows a group of young black men of color. Mind you, these boys were not standing in the direction the witness pointed or involved in the fight that brought police there. They were guests at a party. Racial signal #3.

 

The white-looking cop that was previously standing there calmly talking to that group of boys has somehow disappeared. Where did this more rationale cop go? Was this aspect of the scene contained enough to go elsewhere? If so, why did the more agitated Casebolt come around this group of youth of color?  Racial signal #4.

 

There is a white male adult dressed in plain clothes casually walking by. He seems to be identifying people who were involved. I notice he is not pointing at any of the kids standing near the camera. Yet, the agitated Casebolt runs towards the street, not in the direction the white male was pointing, to where two black males are just standing. Why didn't Casebolt follow this witness' testimony? Racial signal #5.

 

The young black men attempt to sit immediately in the middle of the street after being yelled at by the agitated Casebolt. Casebolt points toward the grass and yells, "On the grass!" The young black men hustle toward the grass, sitting down.  He hovers over them with the end of his flashlight, in a way reminiscent of the billy clubs cops used during the civil rights protests. The agitated Casebolt yells again, "Get on the ground!" These young boys of color were not running, but standing nearby and already complying. The intensity of the cop's screams appear to outweigh what the circumstance actually demands. Racial signal #6.

 

 

 

Casebolt points with the end of his flashlight at an indistinct pair of young women, "Get you asses out of here!"  As the two young women walk away, a group of mostly young, black women stand within a foot of the police officer and a young black male lays on his chest on the ground. When the young men of color ran away earlier they were reprimanded. Now the cop is telling two young women to exit. How the agitated Casebolt is distinguishing between who has permission to sit down, lie down, stand there, and who has permission to walk away is unclear and haphazard.  There does appear to be a pattern emerging though.  So far, only young black males have been chased, pushed to, or commanded to the ground. So far black women are standing by. We do not hear if they are being arrested or detained and if so, why.  We hear no Miranda rights. Racial signal #7.

 

Seconds later, the agitated Casebolt turns to walk to the black males he commanded to sit on the grass and puts handcuffs on one.  You hear a young male saying, "I didn't even do anything. I was bringing her [unclear]. A young black female walks up in a swimsuit, with a towel draped over her arm, talking to someone across the street. You hear the handcuffs click, as Casebolt places them on the second young black man on the grass. We still hear no notice to the youth if they are being arrested, detained, and why.  We still hear no Miranda rights. Racial signal #8.

 

A young black male, says respectfully, "Sir. Sir. We just came from a birthday party. Please." The agitated Casebolt walks by without saying a word. These are youth of color talking to a white-appearing adult, a policeman. And he responds with inexplicable and unwarranted negligence and dishonor. Racial signal #9.

 

The agitated Casebolt looks across the street, takes a few steps forward and then backwards. He grabs his walkie, walks in the middle of the street.  You hear a young man in the background respectfully saying, "Officer. Officer." He points with the end of his flashlight towards the young black men sitting on the grass.  You hear a young black male voice saying he can't find something. The cop responds, "I don't care. Sit down." He walks by. Again, these are youth of color talking to a white-appearing elder, a policeman. And he responds with inexplicable and unwarranted dismissiveness and dishonor. The camera shows a young black male in swim trunks sitting down.  An older white male dressed in plain clothes stands by him, then walks away.  Racial signal #10.

 

The teen with the camera asks what color is it and says he knows where it is. You notice, no one ever yells at the young camera man. It turns out he is white and it is stated that he later explains, "it was like I was invisible." Racial signal #11.

 

Soon after the camera switches to Casebolt standing over the young, black males, jousting the end of his flashlight at them, saying "I want to talk to the guys who took off. That's evading. Right now you're staying. Gonna make me run around here with thirty got *amn pounds of gear on?! in the sun?! Cuz you wanna screw around out here?!" Does his job not require him to be physically fit enough to run with 30 pounds of gear in the sun? Should his choice to run be based on witness testimony and observations? When witnesses are pointing in directions he seems to not go in, is it on the youth? His stereotyped-informed impulses? Racial signal #12.

 

Casebolt walks over to a group of mostly young, black women. "Y'all keep standing around here and running your mouths you're gonna go too. Get out of here!!"  Is it illegal to stand on a sidewalk and converse? Are the youth confused by the haphazard threats to not run and the subsequent handcuffing of some of those who did, so they stayed? Is there a more respectful way to ask people to relocate? Racial signal #13.

 

A young lady seems to state she lost something or is waiting for something.  The agitated Casebolt replies, "I dont care! Get outta here! I already told you." A young lady seems to try to explain something again. The agitated Casebolt replies, "I dont care! Leave! Leave now! You. Are. LEAVING NOW!" She begins to walk. He stops her with his hand, points in another direction, "THAT WAY!" She walks that direction. She's upset, apparently feeling denied, dismissed, unheard.  He then yells, "Get your ass [unclear]! He lightly chases them. "Keep running your mouth!" he yells. Again, his response of rage and dishonor is inexplicable and unwarranted. Racial signal #14.

 

Casebolt then turns towards another group idly standing by, walks toward them. Soon after you see him grabbing, dragging, and manhandling a young black female dressed in a swimsuit. She is 15 years old and her name is Dajerria Becton. It is reminiscent of Annie Lee Cooper's experience in Selma. Racial signal #15.

 

 

The white male in plain clothes stands and watches.  This choice permits the police officer's abuse of power and wild expression of anger.  The only person who seems to be escalating anything is this cop. No one, other adults standing nearby or other cops, seems to be interested in containing this aspect of the situation. Racial signal #16.

 

The youth, noticing the barbarism and injustice right before their eyes, yell out, some saying "what the f*#^ is going on?!" Others run towards the young Dajerria Becton he is dragging to the ground. The plain clothes white male stands over her, holding his hands up blocking the youth running to intervene, allowing the cop to continue to abuse his power.  Racial signal #17.

 

A young black male runs up like the other youth and the cop chases him, pulling his gun. Two white-appearing cops run up, one taps the agitated cop on the left arm, the other chases the young black male.  Again, their choices permit and expand the abuse of power already taking place. It authorizes the brutality of the agitated cop against these young people, and fails to de-escalate the wrath of  Casebolt. Racial signal #18.

 

The plain clothes white male is still standing over the young Becton. He has successfully dispersed the young people who ran to Becton while she was being victimized. This white male doesn't seem to have a badge, police authority, or parental purview, yet he is enacting power on a young, Dajerria Becton, and her comrades, who for all intents and purposes, have not committed a crime. Racial signal #19.

 

The young Becton's sense of powerlessness is palpable. She sits on the ground, head bowed, "Call my momma," she whimpers repeatedly.  As if triggered, Casebolt aborts chasing the young man, quickly pivots to stand over her, yells, stabbing his fingers down at her repeatedly in gest. He picks her up off the ground by one arm, drags her around, grabs the back of her head and yells, "ON YOUR FACE!" She was already on the ground, compliant. Why was the extra force a logical next step? Why did she need to be on her face? Dehumanization. Subjugation. Racial signal #20.

 

 

 

You can hear Becton crying, as Casebolt keeps grabbing her head and pushing it down. She lies on the ground. He places handcuffs on her. The white  male in plain clothes stands behind Casebolt, as if he is his backup. The other youth keep their distance. She yells, "I'm on the ground. Get OFF of ME!" Casebolt repositions himself placing his knee and full body weight on top of her. He then rolls her on her belly and places both knees in her back, resting his entire bodyweight on her petite frameRacial signal #21.

 

Another plain-clothes-dressed white-looking male adult comes over, raising his hands as if to keep the youth back. He does not address Casebolt, his use of force, or seek help from other adults or cops. Racial signal #22.

 

The white young man behind the camera mentions how its unfair the cop has abused her.  Casebolt turns, points at him, saying, "No I didn't and get you butts out of here!" The young man stays. While he is visible in this moment, he is not cursed at, ignored, chased, dragged, pushed, or handcuffed. Racial signal #23.

 

The young, black female the agitated Casebolt yelled at earlier returns, restating how he abused the young Dajerria Becton on the ground by pushing her in the face. Casebolt points to someone in the group, "You get out of here or you're going too!"  All the while, this cop is still resting his full body weight on the young, petite Becton on the ground. The youth walk to cross the street. Racial signal #24.

 

Three men dressed in plain clothes stand around Casebolt, who is still sitting on the young, petite Becton. Another male walks up to join. None of these men engage Casebolt, his use of force, or seek help from other adults or cops. Again, it authorizes the brutality of Casebolt. Racial signal #25.

 

The young, Becton appears to be crying, speaking, and laying with her face toward the ground. Her legs are not moving.  Casebolt yells, "You're going to jail if you don't knock it off!" I continue to hear her cries. Then her legs shake, perhaps as a response to Casebolt's bodyweight. He had his knees in her back and resting his weight on her for a minute and a half.  No other cops have come to this aspect of the scene. Racial signal #26.

 

You hear the young Becton speaking through tears and cries. Casebolt, now down on one knee in the grass, looks around.  Two cops return with the young, black male who tried to help when the cop tackled Becton to the ground, in handcuffs. Racial signal #27.

 

 

 

 

Casebolt sees a young black woman who has been standing there for a while. He yells, "I'm gonna tell you ONE MORE TIME. GET YOUR ASS OUT OF HERE!!! GET! CROSS THE STREET!" He stands quickly, threateningly, 'Get! or you're going too!"  Get? Where I come from that is a command for animals, pets. Racial signal #28.

 

In the background you see the young black male the two cops chased, return. His hands are handcuffed behind his back, he is seated on the grass, leaning to one side, breathing heavily, possibly vomiting. We have no idea what happened outside of the camera's purview. Heavy breathing and vomiting are warning signs. Racial signal #29.

 

The camera pans to a cop talking to two young black males who've been sitting on the ground since the video started.  They restate that they didn't do anything wrong.  The agitated Casebolt returns, hovering over them, yelling, "I told you personally, get on the ground and stay there! Didnt I?" a young, black male replies, "Yes, you did." Casebolt lectures them about "following the crowd." He admits that many of the youth ran, "but they got caught."  He concludes, the unfairness "is not his problem." If I were the youth listening, I would be confused. This rationale is incoherent. Racial signal #30.

 

Overt racism is apparent in the accumulation of actions by at least four white people on the scene:

1) the white female who initiated the fight by stating a racial slur, "go back to your section 8 housing," and  slapping a black, female teen.

2) Copeland's approach to the entire situation. Racial Signals #3, 5-10, 12-16, 20-21, 24, 26, 28 30

3) the white male who called police because "There were too many black people in the community pool." and 4) the white male, dressed in plain clothes in the video but exercising unofficial police and parental authority. Racial signals #17 & 19.

 

Implicit racial acts are apparent in the accumulation of actions by:

1) the police officers who were on the scene but never addressed Copeland for his use of force.

2) the police officers who did not try a more astute approach to containment. Racial signals #1, 4, 6, 18, and

3) the police officers who intervened in ways that allowed the abuse of power to persist Racial signals #18, 27, 29. 

4) the adult males seen walking within the purview of the camera and again doing nothing. Racial signals #22, 25.

5) responses embedded in unspoken, but palpable racial narratives. Racial signals #1,2.

6) the more respectful responses to the white teen behind the camera, though he was asked to leave and stayed. Racial signal #7, 11, 23.

 

Contrary to popular thinking, these implicit acts of  "doing nothing" or "bystanding" are as much assertions of power as the aforementioned explicit acts. Altogether, the accumulation of these implicit and explicit racial acts engendered an microcosm of power assertions that reflect the larger racial dynamics in American society.

 

The way we professionally navigate race, gender, and power shape our capacity to improve the human condition. Police officer or not. Dajerria Becton, we see you. All the youth involved we see you and hear you. Brandon Brooks we see you.

 

Video offering information on what to do/say when you are stopped by the police. Even if it does not prevent irrational events from occurring, its seems useful to know your rights.

 

 

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