Craig Ranch. Small, upscale residential neighborhood of McKinney, Texas, where green grass abounds and peacefulness is palpable. Situated not far from Dallas, McKinney had never gained any media attention except in late 2014 for winning the “Best Places to Live in America” contest by Money magazine. It only took one video posted on YouTube to change everything.
Since Saturday, June 6, nearly 9 million people have watched this amateur video in which we see a white police officer arrest, in a very violent way, a black teenager, slam her with virulence to the ground and draw his service weapon when two men try to intervene. This was enough for accusations of racism to burst out in the current context of riots in Baltimore and Ferguson.
Everything started with a party organized on Friday, June 5 by Tatiana Rhodes, a young 19-year-old girl who lives in Craig Ranch. The event was announced several days in advance on social media under the hash tag #dimepiececookout.
With a DJ and free admission, the party quickly lured more people than expected. The website of McKinney Courier-Gazette, the local newspaper, sheds some light on the following sequence of events. The private pool near where the party was organized, with entry reserved for members of the neighborhood with a badge, was stormed by many young people who came to have fun. The situation escalated when the on-site security guard called the police for backup to restore order.
Not a Racially Motivated Incident
The McKinney police spokeswoman, Sabrina Boston, describes “a large crowd that refused to comply with police commands.”
What happened next was partially filmed. Before the intervention of the police officer against the young girl in a bikini, Tatiana Rhodes had herself been involved in a scuffle with two older white women. She later spoke about this, claiming that one of the women had told her to “go back to [her] Section 8 home.” In the U.S., Section 8 refers to social housing mostly located in underprivileged areas. However, Tatiana Rhodes really lives in Craig Ranch and has the badge to use the pool.
The McKinney Courier Gazette reports the statement of two residents of Craig Ranch, present at the time of the events. Michael Cory Quattrin refutes the accusation of “a whites only, racist” neighborhood. “Anyone who has spent even a few minutes in our area knows this is an outright LIE.”
According to him, “The teens began fighting with each other and pushing their way into our private pool.”
Benet Embry, an African-American who hosts a local radio show, posted a statement on his Facebook to cut short the accusations of a racially motivated incident. “Look, I LIVE in this community and this ENTIRE incident is NOT racial at all. A few THUGS spoiled a COMMUNITY event by fighting, jumping over fences into a PRIVATE pool (…). Not EVERYTHING is about RACE.”
Anonymous Gets Involved
Corporal Eric Casebolt resigned on Tuesday, June 9, while an investigation into excessive use of force on Dajerria Becton, 14, is in progress. He was suspended from his duties a few days before. Throughout the video the police officer can be heard violently speaking and making inappropriate remarks against young people on site. His attitude “raised concerns” said Greg Conley, McKinney Police Chief, quoted by CNN.
But the police officer will also have to deal with threats from Anonymous, who has made him their new target. The website The Daily Dot writes that a new Twitter account has been created under the alias @OpMcKinney. Eric Casebolt is threatened there, and a reward is offered to whoever will identify another man seen on the video.
Behind this manhunt 2.0, the incredible impact of the video and the mobilization that has resulted from it show all the unease and the climate of intense racial tension that is currently agitating the U.S., 50 years after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Ferguson in August 2014; Baltimore in April: U.S. police have recently been walking on thin ice and every little detail of what they do and how they act is carefully scrutinized and analyzed.
In the video filmed in Craig Ranch, the police officers are only lashing out at young black people, emphasizing the unpleasant impression of conflict between white police and black youth that is causing problems. The filmer of the video, a young white man named Brandon Brooks, is not, by the way, at any moment threatened or ordered to sit down on the grass like his black friends.
But what is shocking, above all, is the disproportionate reaction of the police officer in a situation that seems to completely slip away from him. His reaction further highlights America’s struggle to eradicate systemic racism and persistent prejudice.
Police Brutality in Question
In McKinney, many organizations spoke out to denounce a racist act and to call for the firing of Eric Casebolt. On Tuesday, June 9, they were protesting in front of the McKinney Police Department alongside residents holding signs like, “It’s not because I’m black that I live in Section 8.”
This gathering, like those that took place in the U.S. in December 2014 to protest the acquittal of the police officer who strangled Eric Garner to death, pertains to what the sociologist Didier Fassin describes as a “new era of protests.” Mentioning, in Le Monde, the statistics of the American police and the racial profiling to which black people in the U.S. are subjected, the researcher especially noticed that while “the facts are not new [and] the figures have been available for a long time … the events in Ferguson allowed them to be made public. What black citizens experience every day and what the white majority has ignored, even denied, is now being discussed.”
What was true for Ferguson in August 2014 is even more so today after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The United States is immersed in this “slow-rolling crisis,” said President Barack Obama in a speech on April 28.
The American president then called on the country to “examine their conscience.” Luckily, there were no victims this time in McKinney. This is what allowed Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to make a mockery of the Texan police intervention and to remind us that, after all, it was all about a pool party.