03 Jan Our Police are Better than the Viral, Racist Confrontation in Fort Worth
The Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald diluted a brutal police encounter with his description of “rude.” From his safe vantage point, Chief Fitzgerald saw the horrific events of December 22, 2016, as impolite and discourteous.
According to news reports, Jacqueline Craig called the police to report that a neighbor had choked her son to get him to pick up trash. The responding officer, whose name hasn’t been released, told her to teach her son not to litter. A video viewed by more than 3 million people showed Craig and her daughter, both African American, slammed to the ground and hand-cuffed by the white officer with his taser drawn.
From my vantage point, this was a horrific racist act. Luckily no one was physically injured, or died, but as an African American woman, my faith in police is injured. I know that police are better than this. I know that they can serve and protect. That is not what happened in Fort Worth. Rather, it was a textbook example of what not to do. Many others, including me, strive to improve relations between the African-American community and the police. Incidents like this make it challenging.
Racism is prejudice coupled with power. The police officer was prejudiced against Craig (he started by rebuking her), and he had power as an officer to diminish the concerns of the citizen who summoned him. He declined to investigate Craig’s compliant, bickered with her, threw her and her daughter to the ground and arrested them. A third daughter standing nearby videoed the ruckus, cursed at him, and was also arrested.
Others believe the Craig women got what they deserved for mouthing off to an officer. The Craig women did not tolerate the officer’s failure to do his job. These women with opinions did not deserve what happened to them. Yet this is one of a growing number of police encounters with black women in which the women end up body slammed and arrested. The officer pointed his taser at the unarmed Craig women. This suggests he sensed danger. Do black women light a short fuse in some police officers? Do they deplete their patience, and sap their empathy? Do police feel attacked when black women speak sternly and directly at them?
Harvard University economist Roland Fryer researched policing and concluded that, nationwide, black and Hispanic civilians are more likely to be manhandled, handcuffed or beaten by the police, even if they are compliant and law abiding. Fryer writes that prejudice in law enforcement is harmful in many ways, causing cynicism.
Let’s say that there was cynicism on both sides. The white cop may have thought to himself: Here we go again, another loud Black woman. Craig may have thought to herself: How is my son getting justice if a white cop investigates my complaint against another white man?
The police officer had the power, authority and obligation to de-escalate the situation. Instead he instigated an unfortunate incident.
There are two sad ironies here. The first is that the neighbor who allegedly choked Craig’s son has escaped investigation. The second is that America has a new definition for rude. It now means disrespecting, manhandling and disregarding the basic humanity of women.