I don’t know a single Black parent with eyes, a heart and blood pumping through their veins who can watch the video of the Texas cop attacking Black children at a pool party without making the screw face and declaring some version of the following: “Had that been my kid, y’all would be digging in your mattresses for my bail money or I’d be up under the damn jail or dead.” What other kind of reaction could one possibly have after witnessing the one officer running amok, performing a wild-eyed Paul Blart: Mall Cop-meets-Jean Claude Van Damme parody while tossing bathing suit-clad Black boys to the ground, pointing his gun at a group of unarmed kids and driving his fat knees and sweaty crotch into the back of a bikini-clad 9th-grade girl? Like, seriously, who does this to children? And how can anyone look at what is happening in that video, or read any of the myriad of stories detailing what happened, and not cry out/get pissed/want to put the paws on this fool?
What happened at that McKinney, Texas, community pool, is nothing less than disgusting— yet another highly-charged, high-stakes incident in a long line of excessive force used against Black children simply trying to… be. Consistently, our babies’ very humanity is questioned, criticized, policed and met with radically excessive response, particularly when they are being their most purely joyful kid selves: on the way back from buying Skittles; playing “cops and robbers” with a toy gun; building forts; listening to their favorite music, and, in the case of the Craig Ranch North community pool in McKinney; going for a cool swim with friends on the last day of school. In her TheRoot.com essay, “McKinney, Texas: Rage Is Our Rightful Response to Anti-Black Racism,” Kirsten West Savali makes a keen, clear-eyed observation:
“This white supremacist infrastructure is constructed to keep our children gridlocked while their white counterparts cruise on by in the high-occupancy vehicle lane. And at each checkpoint, there are monsters in uniform who will desecrate their black flesh and tap dance on their bones without giving it a minute’s thought.”
At the very least, in the case of the McKinney pool party, it was clear even to top police brass in the well-to-do Dallas suburb that at least one police officer, Cpl. Eric Casebolt, overreacted—so much so that he was suspended pending an investigation. A statement by The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas makes plain why officers should be held accountable for the resulting mess: the police response “appears to be a textbook case of overuse of force,” the statement reads. “A well-trained police department would have responded more cautiously, with less hostility and using sophisticated crowd-control methods that favor de-escalation not escalation. Without question, guns were not needed and in fact risked turning a group of partying teenagers into a violent encounter that could have turned deadly.”
But, as the mother of three, including two African-American teenage girls (ages 13 and 16), I’m concerned not just about what the police did wrong, but what I need to be saying to and teaching my daughters, who could just as easily find themselves in the middle of this kind of situation—this kind of madness.
Oh, be clear: that’s not an overstatement. See, my family and I have lived an entire lifetime in predominately white spaces where our very presence, at the very least, has been repeatedly questioned and, in some instances, railed against. What you know about cops stopping your son at the entrance of his own subdivision and being told by local cops, “you better not let me catch you in this neighborhood again,” despite that his parents owned a home there?
What do you know about neighbors sending “community” emails warning everyone to keep an eye out for people who “don’t belong” because they caught sight of some Black boys walking home from school?
What do you know about white mothers pulling their kids away from children of color at the park under the assumption that their parents are gang members or that you’re an interloper from the bad part of town using “their” slide, swings and play areas because they’re nicer than those in the ‘hood they assume you’re from?
What do you know about having “neighbors” call the property manager on your family because someone decided there were too many of “you” at the pool, despite that you’re clearly having a birthday party, you secured and paid for a permit to do so, and all those splashing Black kids weren’t nearly as disruptive as the fresh-out-of-college (white) residents hosting a bong and beer-game party with a bunch of visitors just feet away?
Each of these things has, indeed, happened to me and my family, and only by the grace of sweet Baby Jesus, we got little more than our pride slapped and our feelings hurt. But had any of those incidents escalated into someone calling the police on my kids and the responding officers escalating the situation into something rivaling the McKinney incident, I’m not so sure my daughters would know how to conduct themselves and do what they could to stay out of the epicenter of the madness.
Here’s what I and my husband, co-author of Justice While Black, an advice book for families on how to avoid and navigate the criminal justice system, will be talking to our daughters about after we show them the video of the Texas cop attacking Black children who look like them:
1. If racist adults talk crazy to you, do not stick around to get into an argument with them. This is supposedly how the entire incident at the community pool started—with a white woman taunting the Black pool guests by telling them they should “go back to Section 8 housing.” When the kids told her she was being racist, the lady is said to have physically attacked the 19-year-old pool party host. What we’re advising our girls to do: try to be calm, do not engage them, walk away from their crazy and find an adult who can be a surrogate advocate. That last part is particularly important because if a white person calls the cops on you after an altercation, whether verbal or physical, you need to understand that the cops will most likely take the side of the adult. Specifically, the white adult. Do not stick around to continue to be insulted or to have them arrange for you to get in trouble for their racist behavior.
2. Practice streets smarts—even when you’re in the suburbs. We want our girls to be completely aware of their surroundings, to know when it’s time to leave, and how to behave if they can’t get away. This means that if something is popping off, it’s just not a good idea to stick around and watch what goes down—especially if cop cars are pulling up. Walk—don’t run—away calmly and get a safe distance away from the drama. Once away, call your parents or an adult who can come get you. We will be arriving with our lawyer. Then, if you can, videotape what is happening.
3. If you can not calmly move away from the action or a police officer tells you to stop, stop and do what he says. This is especially important when an out-of-control cop is doing combat rolls on the grass, cursing and waving his gun around like he’s an extra in a D-level, straight-to-video action flick. He is hyped and looking for a reason to hurt someone. Know that your first order of business is to try not to be the person he hurts. Do not give him a reason to set his sights on you: don’t curse back (seriously, you are not on the set of “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta“—do not pop off at the mouth); don’t ask questions; don’t try to state the case for why he’s wrong and you’re right. Do exactly as he says. This does not make you a punk or weak or a discredit to your race. But it does increase your chances of staying alive.
4. Collect as much information as you can. Look for badge numbers, names, police car plates and any other identifying characteristics of the police officers involved. If it is safe to do so, videotape what is happening around you. These are the kinds of details you’ll need to have so that when we adults get involved, we have more of a chance to hold these men accountable for their actions.
5. If you are taken into police custody, do not say a word. Not. One. Word. Call your parents and make sure that they show up with a lawyer. This part is most important. Tell them to bring a lawyer. A cop’s job is to put you into the system and you are not going to talk your way out of it, as if the police made a mistake. When you try, you’re giving away your constitutional right to remain silent and can easily implicate yourself—even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Jails are filled with innocent people who thought they could apply reason and logic to get themselves out of trouble. The system is not set up to help you. Let a lawyer who is trained to deal with the system do her job—period.
Always the goal for kids should be to return home safely to their parents. That’s what we parents want. That should be what the kids want, too—to fight another day. Hell, to see one. It is important to me that my daughters understand that I am by no means blaming the Black children of McKinney for the police brutality they faced that day at the pool; what the cops did was wrong. Period, full stop. But there are lessons to be learned there for our babies, too. It’s our job to teach them.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.