Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Reverend Nathanial Martin: Looks just like police brutality, you know, to use a hackneyed phrase - the old R word is definitely at play in this.

Shereen Marisol Meraji: The R word meaning race?

Reverend Martin: Meaning race, yeah, bigotry, bias, hatred - the whole nine yards.
NPR - Community Outraged Over Video Showing Officer Beating Woman
More than likely, you've heard of this case by now - a mentally ill African-American woman, barefoot, running into traffic, and a white California Highway Patrol officer throwing her to the ground and beating her.

All the hallmarks of a case of racially-motivated inappropriate use of force (which, it seems to me is becoming just as hackneyed as "police brutality"). There's only one problem. There's just the one hallmark. The officer was white, the person being beaten, black.

While the fact that the perpetrator is a member of the majority group and the target a member of a historically oppressed minority group may be necessary to sustain a charge of bigotry, bias and hatred, it is not sufficient. Because of a fact that, in keeping with the idea that this is the Internet, can be expressed as: Any single display of assholery, directed at someone of a different ethnic extraction than the asshole, is indistinguishable from racism. And right now, given the information that we have, all we can really determine is that, judging by the officer's actions, he was, with malice forethought or not, being a colossal asshole.

Given this, asking CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow if he thought the incident was racially motivated is really premature, despite how well the question plays, and the fact that Commissioner Farrow's answer seemed more like a non-answer. But what was the man supposed to say? He's Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, not a mind-reader.

One of the things that I learned in my twenties is that the world seems a much less threatening place when I don't wrack my brain trying to determine if someone is an asshole and a racist, or simply an asshole, when I only have a sample size of one, and regardless of what conclusion I reach, they're still an asshole. Okay, if I have to deal with assholes, rather than racists, I lose some victim cred. There's a tragedy. If the slow-poking fruitnob who flipped me off in traffic the other day was doing his impression of a mobile roadblock because he was a dick, rather than because I was black, all I've lost is the specter of someone I'm unlikely to ever encounter again taking exception to the color of my skin.

Granted the California case is a bit more serious, but again, if the officer turns out to be simply overworked, have anger-management issues or a be an amateur sadist, rather than a racist, we still don't lose anything. There's no affirmative defense for what the officer has done that kicks in if, and only if, he's a racist asshole, rather than a run-of-the-mill asshole. And by the same token, a finding of racial animosity isn't going to make anything better for Marlene Pinnock. She's not going to be released from the hospital sooner, or be any less mentally it.

The United States has a history of racism. There's no getting around that. But the simple fact that some number of people were racists yesterday does not mean than every incident that happens today is directly traceable back to that history. Constantly seeking to make that connection isn't healthy for us. For any of us.

No comments: