Monday, March 29, 2010

Boston's Bitchy Bear Wraps Up Our Race Debate.

Have any of you folks actually been arrested? I have, more than once, in more than one location. I was a rotten teenager with the same personal habits as Mello Mike. (Hi Dana!) So I got arrested for possession multiple times when I was in my early and late teenage years. This became quite handy when, later on, I joined protests we planned to get arrested in places like Seattle. Once you been through a strip search, it isn't as big a deal anymore. Never pleasant, but not as horrible as when it happens to you when you are upset, angry, and humiliated. I've been treated well by the cops, I've been treated like shit by the cops. A lot depends on the individual cop.

So I consider myself somewhat of an aficionado of the way police treat you, and how to avoid getting your ass beat.

I'm white, so I can only speak for myself.

With Henry Louis Gates, Jr, for example, when he was taken into custody after chewing out police for confronting him for trying to get into his own house. That could have been different. I don't blame him for being furious, but if I had been there, I could have told him to keep yelling at the police from his front steps and NOT TO FOLLOW them. As soon as he started following them to keep chewing them out...that's it. You're going in. The police have a dangerous job; if you follow them, they're going to make you stop it. Yeah, they threaten people, too, but they deal with physical threats all day every day, and the one time they let something go might be their last. So most don't. So what seems like an innocent thing to do among the normal people in the world--following them to keep speaking your justifiably angry mind--becomes a "getting arrested rather than going home" moment.

In my experience, there isn't much of a spectrum between "going quietly, walking out on your own" and "getting thrown on your face." In reality, the cops in the video displayed a normal amount of force in my experience when somebody and starts in with yelling and flailing. I'm sorry if that sounds like a excuse, but I have been, done that. I've gotten the knee in the back, the forced take-down, the handcuffs--the forced submission--the whole nine yards. And way more. I resisted once, against a black cop, as it happens. The beating he laid on me makes this look like a pink tea party. I never did anything even remotely resistive again. The outraged people clasping their hands with concern for the young lady need to....well...stop viewing this through the experience of people whose middle and upper class privilege keep them far removed from the world of the police, jails, and having one's dainty person touched.

There are, I swear, 100 things they can do to you that didn't happen to this young lady. The real pain comes with a taser, the club or a fist. They can pinch those cuffs. They can twist your arms until they feel like your elbows and shoulders are coming out of the sockets. They could have dragged her out banging on her this and that, by while her arms screamed in pain. Instead, they took her down make her stop, and asked her if she needed an ambulance. (She didn't; she wants one because she wants the drama to continue because she's angry. I understand being angry.) What happened as far as I could see on the video--which stopped at a weird time--was pretty normal. The student refused to leave class, gave verbal and physical indicators that she wasn't going and reacted aggressively when the cop touched her to move her along. That's a recipe for getting thrown down even if most of you (and she) don't see it.

But now that I've said all that, let me say something else: As a tough kid from a tough place who spent years in front of judges and cops and juveniles, black people are treated differently, and it is vicious. I've gotten tons of breaks, I think, because I am white and because I was--when I was young--very pretty.

At the risk of Monday-morning quarterbacking, I have to say that far from being shocked at the police, I am rather shocked at the instructor here. Everybody kept escalating the student, when I saw numerous indicators from her behavior that she was starting to wind down. She wasn't in the mindset to be able to admit what she did or said was wrong; she needed to wind down and people should have just stopped talking to her. I guess I wonder why the instructor didn't just tell the class to take a break and try to talk the young woman privately as well as the student she threw a bottle at. It seems rather obvious to me that having this debate in front of the class raised the stakes for the young woman and caused her to feel like she was losing face and being humiliated. Giving her time would have enabled to collect herself a bit and maybe she would have been able to
see the point of leaving on her own while she was so upset, before the police came, and coming back when she wasn't so upset.

And I don't see this student's behavior as snowflakism. There's a whole bunch of things I see. It's hard to be a black student in a white-dominated classroom. It's hard to feel like you got screwed on an exam. It's hard to feel like people are ganging up on you when you have pride.

I wish this had not happened.