I was walking through Rockefeller Center Saturday afternoon in the building where I sometimes work doing TV commentary for MSNBC and CNBC. I arrived at the escalator a second or two after a uniformed police officer got on. But rather than getting on the escalator behind him, I stopped, waited for a couple seconds, and then stepped on tentatively.
I didn't want to admit it to myself, but in the back of my mind I was afraid. I was afraid the officer might get nervous with a Black man riding behind him. Afraid he might see me as some sort of threat. Afraid something horrible might happen.
I had a similar feeling a few weeks earlier in Harlem when I walked past a group of police officers one night while listening to music on my iPhone. As soon as I passed the officers, I immediately removed my earbuds to make sure I could hear them if they said something to me. I didn't want them to think I was ignoring them if they tried to communicate to me and I didn't respond. Once again, I was afraid for my life.
It was only when I saw the video of a police officer physically abusing a young Black teenage girl outside a pool party in McKinney, Texas, this weekend that I put my feelings of fear in context. The police have become an occupying force in Black America. It's why a Black adult with a law degree feels more threatened by the cops who are sworn to protect him than by the criminals lurking in the street.
The McKinney video was simply the latest in a long stream of deeply disturbing incidents of police officers harassing and abusing African-Americans. It's a problem that Black Americans have been complaining about for years, but white America is only now paying attention because video evidence is proving what we've been saying all along.
America's lack of serious attention to the decades-long epidemic of police brutality, in itself, is troubling, because it suggests that our countless complaints were meaningless all this time until they could be corroborated by "independent" white people.
But here in McKinney we have yet another video, like the dozens we've seen on YouTube and social media in the past year since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. The officer, Eric Casebolt, who was later placed on administrative leave, is clearly seen racially profiling and targeting Black suburban teenagers, physically forcing them to the ground, handcuffing them and yelling at them to obey his commands. He even drew his gun on a couple of teenagers who merely bothered to question him.
But it was the officer's attack on a petite 14-year-old Black girl in a bikini that stunned many viewers. The officer demanded that the harmless girl comply with his nonsensical orders. "On your face," he yelled, as he grabbed her hair and threw her to the ground and forced her down. Then he placed his knees on the girl's back and subdued her for what seemed like an unnecessary eternity.
That specific episode of abuse felt sickeningly pornographic, as though the older white male officer were about to perform some violent sexual slave rape fantasy on an innocent Black teenage girl. And the officer did all this while cell phones visibly photographed and recorded the entire incident. It was as if he knew he could act with impunity because his victims were powerless young Black kids.
Black kids are under attack by the very cops who are supposed to keep them safe. It's why some Black teenagers run when they see the police. It's why other Blacks will not "snitch" to the police. And it's why a Gallup poll last August found 59 percent of whites had "a great deal or quite a lot of confidence" in the police but only 37 percent of Blacks felt the same way.
This is not a problem that can be solved by a "national conversation" on race or another presidential commission. It's not a problem that can be solved by our African-American President Barack Obama or our African-American Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It's not even a problem that can be solved by any one of the Democratic or Republican presidential candidates, although all of them should be talking about this issue far more than they are.
No, this is a problem of white racism, white supremacy and white America's maddening refusal to acknowledge the persistence of racial discrimination toward Blacks. Most of the Black people I know are tired of complaining about racial profiling and police brutality to deaf ears. We've said all we can possibly say about this over and over again. Now it's time for white people to wake up and do some serious soul searching of their own, to analyze their own privilege, to speak up forcefully against racial profiling, to demand change in our laws and to begin the process of checking themselves.
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