Video imagery doesn’t get much worse than a white police officer throwing an African-American girl in a bikini to the ground, kneeling on her back as she cries, and drawing his gun on other teens.
What in God’s name is wrong with our cops?
I should say, what was wrong with McKinney, Texas, police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, the officer in the video. Would that this were an isolated case, but we’ve seen other videos the past year or so involving other police officers, mostly white, whose aggressive tactics resulted in death or injury to unarmed black victims. Casebolt resigned late Tuesday.
While it’s necessary to qualify that most cops are good and risk their lives to protect our safety, nothing justifies what millions of Americans witnessed in the latest viral video described above.
The 15-year-old girl reportedly was mouthing off; Casebolt may have felt flustered as he faced dozens of teenagers following a fight he didn’t yet understand; the moment may even have felt dangerous to him. We don’t know.
What has been reported is that the original melee, which had ended by the time police arrived, may have been prompted by two white women hurling racial slurs when a crowd of teens, mostly black, arrived for a cookout at the private, planned-community pool.
"Go back to (your) Section 8 home," one of them reportedly said, according to the party’s host, a teen who lives in the pool’s neighborhood.
Most anyone can understand the women’s irritation at the suddenly overcrowded scene but not their resort to cruel and inflammatory language. Some of the teens apparently were shouting at the gate to be let in, while others scaled the wall. The mixed-race community has strict rules that residents can bring only two guests to the pool.
A fight eventually erupted and the police were called. This would have been a daunting situation for anyone, but Casebolt couldn’t have picked a less appropriate individual to subdue as an example to others. Many have asked: Didn’t he realize he was being filmed? As though, if only he’d known, he would have behaved better. The more compelling question to me is: What in the world was he thinking?
Obviously, Casebolt felt he had to take command of what appeared to be a chaotic situation. But we’ve reached a point where something has to be done, not only to better monitor police behavior, but also to quell inevitable racial tensions.
Were Casebolt’s actions racially motivated? A black resident said no; a white resident said yes, according to CNN. The white teen who filmed the incident, partygoer Brandon Brooks, said police were targeting blacks. Benet Embry, a 43-year-old black resident, said the incident was not racially motivated.
Perhaps. Yet the image of a black girl pinned down by a white cop is impossible to shake and brings to mind the closing defense argument in the film "A Time to Kill." The attorney, whose black client had killed his little girl’s rapists and torturers, described the scene of the broken, nearly dead child to the all-white jury.
"I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white."
It was a chilling, convincing moment.
Does anyone think that Casebolt would have treated a bikini-clad white girl with long, blond hair the same way?
Recent debate has focused on body cameras for police. Although cameras can positively modify actions, they only capture what happens, not what motivates behavior. It seems our greater concern should be getting at those motivations with a greater focus on in-depth psychological testing and monitoring.
Even if some departments do background checks and take other measures, they’re apparently not doing enough. The Cleveland officer who shot and killed a 12-year-old boy last November had been cited in a previous job for emotional immaturity, yet the Cleveland department didn’t review those records before hiring him.
Many officers come from the military. Have they seen battle? Do they suffer post-traumatic stress? Casebolt was a former military police officer in the Navy, which may mean nothing, but he brings that experience to the job. Are there factors therein?
It was clear from the footage that Casebolt had lost his cool. He was angry. Maybe anybody would have been under the circumstances. But a police officer shouldn’t be just "anybody." Armed with a gun and the authority to use it, he should always be the exception to ordinary human behavior.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.