(De Ana J is writer and sometimes smartass from Southern California. She podcasts for Nerdgasm Noire, writes for Arsenal for Democracy and acts out on Twitter as @NaniCoolJ. You can also sometimes catch her on her blog www.nerdygirlswag.com.)
Weeks ago in McKinney, Texas the police were called about a disturbance at a neighborhood pool party. In one of the many viral videos, there’s an officer running around cursing at teenagers – mostly Teens of Color. In the video you distinctly hear them ask why they were being detained and why they were being told to leave a party to which they’d been invited. Notably, they were asking politely. A bikini-clad girl looking for one of her friends is told to leave with another group of girls; as they leave, the officer becomes upset and grabs the girl, slamming her to the ground multiple times, while her friends ask why she’s being arrested. When her friends attempt to help her, the officer pulls a gun on the group.
Aside from the obvious racism, it’s important to pay attention to the racialized misogyny (misogynoir) that also takes place. Looking at the videos, it’s clear to see that the officer, David Eric Casebolt, was being excessive in his attack on the girl, Dajerria Becton. It’s scary to see a grown man be so violent towards any small, bikini-clad 14 year old girl – the officer treats Miss Becton as if she were a much bigger, much stronger person. It’s even more alarming when you realize that Casebolt was specifically targeting teens of color.
If that girl hadn’t already learned before — if any of those teens hadn’t already learned before — they learned that day that being Black in public is considered a threat to the police. Even if you’re doing nothing wrong. Even if you’re only 14. Even if you obviously have no weapon. Even if you are polite.
If a group of teens can have the police called on them for being at a pool party they were invited to, the problem isn’t them — it’s the belief that simply because they are there they are causing trouble. This is especially true for Black girls, who have to live at the intersection of racism and sexism that denies them their girlhood. As is evident from the altercation that got police called to the neighborhood in the first place.
In a YouTube video, Tatyana Rhodes describes how two white women at the pool were cursing at the teens at the party before the police arrived. She states that, initially, a younger white girl objected to the slurs the two white women. They began to curse at her, and when Tatyana spoke out against the women’s language, they initiated a fight. In both this incident and the officer subsequently slamming Dajerria to the ground, we see White adults attacking Black teenagers, ignoring their right to personal safety.
The “pro-police” reaction to the event has been cliche. Those who believe Casebolt was justified in violently assaulting a teenage girl use the same excuses as those used for all unwarranted abuses towards Black people. They say that the children were the problem and if they’d only acted more respectfully towards the police and residents they wouldn’t have been in this situation. This point of view completely ignores how polite the teens were as they were being detained by police and the fact that it was White adults who initially antagonized them for just being Black in public.
We’ve been told non-violent protests in the form of marches and boycotts in the 1960s magically changed the minds of the majority of White people and then racism ended. Because of this fairytale, the US has failed to unpack actual issues of systemic racism and the lingering effects of racist stereotypes that have developed since slavery.
This failure combined with sexist attitudes is especially harmful for Black women and girls. Even as teenagers, any break in respectable behavior is treated as a threat and the responses to these perceived threats is almost immediately violence. We’re not afforded the luxury of girlhood. If Black girls were regarded by society the way it views White American girls, it would reveal this violence against us to be as horrible as it actually is, for all to see.
The fact that so many are making excuses for violence against this girl shows they do not view her as a girl the way they would a white 14-year-old in the same situation. It is also almost certainly no coincidence that the cop targeted her with this extreme force while leaving the White teenage girls at the party alone, and only handcuffing but not roughing up those siding with their Black friends against out-of-control adults.
Unfortunately, this lack of girlhood affects the way adult Black women are treated as well. Recently, after another public outing of Bill Cosby’s sexual assaults on women, Beverly Johnson opened up to Essence magazine about being assaulted by Bill Cosby. Her story matched the stories of the other women who were brave enough to tell them, yet Mrs. Johnson was called a liar (among other things) and her despite her own successful career, people were quick to dismiss her and defame her character. Many saying that Beverly was trying to take down a prominent Black figure and therefore hurting Black people as a whole, while ignoring how harm to Black women also hurts Black people.
This isn’t just a race issue, this isn’t just a feminist issue, this is both. Black girls should be allowed the same safety and protection as their White counterparts.