Civil Liberties

McKinney: Of Pool Parties, Police Brutality, and Institutional Racism

We should demand better behavior from the people who are paid to keep us safe.



Was the police response to the pool party incident in McKinney, Texas, a clear case of law enforcement overreacting—once again—to a trivial dispute, or a necessary response to the antics of delinquent teenagers? Did racial animus play a role, as one bystander claims, or were the black kids the ones who were misbehaving, as a neighborhood resident claims?

The video evidence and eyewitness testimony suggests the former (although the latter may possess miniscule kernel of truth). Police responded to a fight that had broken out between a girl and a mother. A video of the encounter establishes that the fight did indeed take place, but it only involved a couple people—not the large swath of teenagers who were later detained by officers.  When the officers arrived, they treated all the minority teenagers as suspects and ignored the white kids, according to 15-year-old Brandon Brooks (who is white). When the kids tried to run, Corporal Eric Casebolt "flipped out," according to Brooks:

"[Casebolt] trips and drops his flashlight. He's going crazy, putting people in handcuffs, tackling people, slinging them on the ground."

So, why wasn't Brooks handcuffed?

"I was one of the only white people in the area when that was happening. You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kinda like skips over me and tells all my African-American friends to go sit down."

Things got really scary for the teen behind the lens as he watched his 14-year-old friend being thrown to the ground.

"I think she was quote unquote running her mouth, and she has freedom of speech and that was very uncalled for him to throw her to the ground," Brooks said. "When he pulled his gun my heart dropped. As soon as he pulled out his gun, I thought he was going to shoot that kid. That was very scary."

Casebolt shouldn't have pulled out his gun—nothing good could have come from that. He also handled the Brooks' friend, a bikini-clad girl, far too roughly. As Rep. Justin Amash wrote on Twitter:

Nobody is above the law. #McKinney officer's actions can't be justified. He should be charged w/ assault & battery.

Some conservatives, unfortunately, are falling over themselves to defend the police—the one kind of public employee who can do no wrong in the eyes of all-too many people on the right. Media Matters compiled a disheartening list of Fox News personalities raising baseless hypotheticals that could (maybe) justify Casebolt's rash actions:

Fox's Tom Shillue: Video "Didn't Shock Me At All" Because The Teen "Was Intimidating The Cop." On the June 8 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Tom Shillue claimed the video "didn't shock me at all" because "the cops are breaking up a party, these guys are great." Later Shillue justified the officer pulling a gun on the unarmed teen claiming "he was intimidating the cop" by running in his direction. [Fox News, The Five,6/8/15]

Fox Business' Lou Dobbs: "What In The World Are Police, We Have To Ask, Supposed To Do When People Who Don't Respect The Law … Refuse To Obey?" Fox Business host Lou Dobbs defended the officer, asking, "what in the world" are police supposed to do when people "refuse to obey" their orders? [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight6/8/15]

Fox's Brit Hume On Brutal Responses By Police: "If You Obey The Police It Doesn't Usually Happen."On the June 8 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed that arrests and actions like those taken by the officer in McKinney, Texas, don't happen "if you obey the police." [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor6/8/15]

Fox's Kelly: "The Girl Was No Saint Either." Fox News host Megyn Kelly responded to the brutal video showing a teen girl being manhandled by a Texas police officer by commenting that "the girl was no saint either. He had told her to leave, and she continued to linger. And when the cop tells you to leave, get out." She followed this by saying "I'm not defending his actions, let me make that clear." [Fox News, The Kelly File,6/8/15]

Sean Hannity Claims That Officer In Texas Was Justified For Pulling A Gun Because Teens Could Have Come Up And "Hit Them With A Shank In The Back." On the June 8 edition of Premiere Radio Networks'The Sean Hannity Show, Fox News host Sean Hannity defended the Texas police officer, saying there is an environment of children not respecting the police, which President Obama has contributed to. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show6/8/15]

Maybe children, particularly minority children, don't respect the police because of encounters like this one. Maybe the fact that police officers make arbitrary and discriminatory demands of them—and react violently when they don't comply—poisons their ability to respect authority. While not each and every instance of police misbehavior can be chalked up to racism, it certainly seems like the presumption that black kids were doing something wrong was at play here.

I'm not claiming that the teenagers behaved perfectly. Of course they didn't. They're teenagers. Should they have complied with the demands the officers made, regardless of how ridiculous they were? Sure. But whose actions were more reprehensible: the black teenagers who responded imperfectly to unfair demands, or the cop who lost his cool, abused a teenage girl, and introduced a gun to the situation? Perhaps we should expect better behavior from the kids, but we should demand better behavior from the people who are paid to keep us safe.

And so should conservatives.