There’s an undeniable history in this country of police treating black people, especially young black people, like they must be controlled. As a result, many black people, especially young black people, feel that when the police show up, they’re in danger. The police are there to protect and serve somebody, but there’s no reason for a black teenager in a planned suburban enclave like McKinney’s Craig Ranch to believe that that somebody is him.
The facts are still difficult to pin down, but before the video began, police were called to the pool party. Witnesses say that some white adults at the pool had made racist comments—telling the black teens to “get used to the bars” outside of the pool, or to “go back to their Section 8 housing.” (The average home price in Craig Ranch is $450,000.)
Those comments apparently led to a confrontation. Tatyana Rhodes, a 19-year-old girl who was one of the hosts of the party, says that she was struck by an older white woman after she confronted her about racial slurs. (A witness interviewed by the Huffington Post corroborates Rhodes’ account.) There’s a video of Rhodes and the other woman grappling. As a security guard approaches, the other woman walks away from the scene.
— Miles(K-Bandz) (@k1dmars) June 6, 2015
Shortly after the fight, police arrived. There’s no video of their arrival, but from where the video does start, it’s easy to infer that some of the teenagers started to run away. The video opens with an officer tumbling into a barrel roll, like he’s in an action movie, before beginning the process of grabbing teens, throwing them to the ground, putting knees to their backs, handcuffing them, and—finally—pulling his gun.
The teenagers, who are mostly dressed in bathing suits, are all unarmed. The officer swears at the black kids in the video. The boy holding the camera, who is white, moves around freely. At one point, a black teenage boy who is being ordered to stay on the ground asks if he can retrieve his bag, and the officer says that he cannot. The boy with the camera volunteers to get it for him. Meanwhile, a black girl who tells the officer that she needs to find her glasses gets grabbed by the officer. Moments later, he throws her to the ground, and grabs her by the hair. When two boys approach the scene, he pulls out his gun. When the girl screams about his gun, he grabs her by the back of the head, shouts, “On your face,” and slams her, face-first, into the grass. He places his knee on her back, and when the boy with the camera says, “You pulled your gun on her,” the officer insists, “No, I didn’t.” The girl he’s pinning down cries, “I’m not fighting you.”
It’s unclear exactly what happened at the pool and why the police got involved. And while, yes, some of the black kids at the scene may have scattered when they saw the police, at least one officer behaved in a way that justifies such a reaction, pulling a gun on unarmed teens. When a black teenager in America in 2015 sees a police officer pull a gun, he or she should understand the stakes. The names Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Eric Garner, and Rekia Boyd are constant reminders. Escaping the officer in the video seems like essential self-preservation.
The officer has been identified by media as Corporal Eric Casebolt. According to Gawker, someone who appears to be Casebolt had a YouTube playlist on his public profile called “Police Training,” that features videos of police officers using violent force against the citizens they’re tasked with protecting and serving. On Saturday, that same YouTube user added the video of Casebolt at the pool party to the list.
Let’s take a moment now to contrast the scene in McKinney with the scene, three weeks earlier, in Waco. At the time of the shooting at the Waco Twin Peaks restaurant between several gangs of mostly-white bikers—which left nine dead and another dozen in the hospital—I wrote that “the mere fact that a massive shoot-out in a strip mall could end with police and bikers on peaceful terms does look like special treatment.”
The bikers in Waco had a gunfight in broad daylight that killed nine people. The kids in McKinney were allegedly swimming in a pool that they may not all have had permission to be in. One of those encounters involved bikers sitting around in the parking lot on their cell phones. The other involved a girl thrown around, slammed face-first into the ground, held with a knee at her back for saying that she couldn’t leave until she found her glasses. And, of course, the ones who were at the scene of a lethal gunfight were white, and the ones who were beaten by a police officer who seemingly considers videos of police officers kicking suspects in the face to be “police training” were black.
In these situations, it’s always easy to talk about bad eggs. Casebolt has been placed on leave pending an investigation, after all, which suggests this might just be a situation in which one bad apple overreacted.
But let’s talk about the rest of the eggs. In the video, you can see two other officers. One of them is polite to the (white) kid with the camera, when he attempts to return a flashlight that Casebolt dropped during his tumble-and-roll maneuver. And when Casebolt pulls his gun, the two officers approach Casebolt momentarily, before following his order to chase the boys Casebolt pulled his gun on. There may be bad cops and good cops, but they all serve alongside one another, and when one of the bad ones slams a teenage girl in a bathing suit face-first into the ground repeatedly and draws his gun on a bunch of unarmed kids in a rage, the potentially good cops don’t appear to intervene.
It’s also been shown, repeatedly, that the police force often supports its bad eggs. In January, a Victoria police officer was fired after video showed him beating and tasing an elderly man who committed the non-offense of driving a car with dealer plates without an inspection sticker (cars with dealer plates aren’t required to have them). In April, that officer—Nathanial Robinson—was hired by the nearby Beeville Police Department, where he is once more armed with a gun and the authority to use force on people he suspects of wrongdoing. Ryan Cunningham, who was fired from his job with the Jasper Police Department after being captured on video assaulting a pregnant woman in custody, was hired by the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office shortly thereafter. Whatever the end result of the investigation into Casebolt, it seems likely that if he wants to continue adding clips to his “police training” highlight reel, he’ll have the opportunity.
It would be easy to place all of the blame here at bad-egg Casebolt’s feet. It’d also be easy to say that this is just another example of the eternal culture-war dispute over the role of police and race. Someone will find a Facebook post from one of the kids in the video in which he talks about smoking weed, or we’ll learn that the young woman in the fight with the white woman had a disciplinary record at school, or some other post-facto obfuscation will arise to shift the narrative for those who want it shifted. There’s a counter-narrative that exists that says that a DJ was holding an illegal party at the pool and advertised it with a $15-a-head cover charge on Twitter. (No such tweets exist, though Tatyana Rhodes—who is a resident of the community—did share an invite to a free pool party at the location via social media. It garnered three “likes.”)
No matter how the narrative shifts, pulling a gun on unarmed teens is inexcusable. And doing so over the question of who is allowed in a pool is even more troublesome.
According to the girl who hosted the party and her mother (both of whom were residents), most of the kids were from Craig Ranch. Others who didn’t live in the area were reportedly using guest passes; others, it has been said, were jumping the fence to get in.
In other words, some white adults likely saw a group of black children in their neighborhood pool, determined that they didn’t belong, and decided to call the police. The teens may have been loud—teenagers often are—and they may have made some of the people who saw them uncomfortable. But they were kids at a swimming pool, and the day ended for many of them in handcuffs, reportedly after weathering racial slurs from grown-ups.
As the Atlantic also noted, the setting of this disturbing incident—a community pool—recalls the long history of black people not being allowed in public swimming pools. In the sixties, white people were known to pour acid into the water to get them out. They defended their actions, arguing that the black people in those pools were being unruly, too. When the police would be called, they would cuff, swear at, and threaten the black swimmers. Details are still emerging, but what happened in McKinney still serves as a reminder for many Texans, and the rest of America, that the past isn’t dead. As Faulkner said, it’s not even past.