Swimming while black is a crime? Or having a black pool party? Maybe the police in Texas have lost their minds. Then again, maybe the Lone Star state still denies black people the freedom to assemble, just like the black codes.
A police officer was placed on administrative leave after a video surfaced of police detaining, manhandling and cursing at black teenagers at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, a Dallas suburb. The officers reportedly broke up the party after complaints in the neighborhood that there were too many black young people in the area. An officer is seen pinning a 14-year old girl to the ground and grabbing her by the breasts, and pulling a gun on young men who attempt to intervene. “Call my mama, oh God!” the young woman is heard shouting as the officer forces her to the ground. “On your face!” the officer orders her as he slams her, crying, to the ground, face first. At one point the officer is seen pulling out what appears to be a gun on young men who approached out of concern for their friend.
Thankfully, none of these young people were killed. As we all know, the outcome could have been far worse. Nevertheless, what they endured was a traumatic experience that will haunt them forever. But exactly what did these kids do to deserve this treatment? Apparently, if there are too many black folks around, and white people get antsy and feel threatened, that is more than enough cause for arrest.
Black people getting arrested “just because” is part of a long legacy of criminalization by virtue of their skin color. Under the slave codes, blacks were subject to curfews and could not assemble without whites present. And under the Jim Crow-era black codes–which were derived from the slave codes—it was illegal for black people to assemble in public during the daytime or nighttime. Vagrancy could lead to arrests and fines for idle blacks, who became convict laborers if they were unable to pay the fines. This was how white supremacy was maintained in Texas and elsewhere, and black people were kept in their place.
Today, African-Americans find themselves in grave danger and their lives at risk when they come in contact with police. Typically, police justify killing a black suspect by claiming they thought that suspect had a gun. However, when you are black, no gun is necessary, and no crime is necessary. The police assume you are a criminal and up to no good, and a group of two or more black folks congregating is evidence enough of a crime in progress.
Meanwhile, Texas just passed open carry legislation allowing people to carry handguns in public in plain view, and giving the green light to students at public colleges to carry concealed guns on campus. Because what could go wrong with a bunch of drunken Texas frat boys at a keg party, and everybody is packing heat? Mass murderers and campus shooters are overwhelmingly white men, and society does not criminalize white men, but rather gives them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, these laws were not meant with black people’s gun rights in mind. Besides, just look what happened to the Black Panthers. More importantly, the advocates for open carry also support stand your ground laws that justify the killing of people of color by white vigilantes.
More importantly, America has a long tradition of treating white criminals better than innocent black people. During Jim Crow segregation, German Nazi prisoners of war were treated better than black soldiers, had better quarters and more freedom, and were allowed to eat at “whites only” facilities. Similarly, biker gang members who were involved in the May 17th Waco, Texas bloodbath—including neo-Nazis wearing “SS” tattoos and patches— were treated by police with respect and with kid gloves. And they had fired on police officers and were alleged mass murder suspects in a shootout that left nine dead and 18 injured. However, turn those biker gangs into black teenagers, take away their guns and put them in the middle of a pool party, and things would have been quite different, because that is where you find the real criminals.
This is why we get angry. And this is why many in the community refuse to trust the police. Our children cannot go to a pool party without the cops shoving guns in their face, brutalizing them and groping our daughters. Pool partying while black might be a new thing but the ‘black codes’ are not and unfortunately they may still be in effect.
David A. Love