Police Criminals and the Brutalization of Black Girls

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By Sikivu Hutchinson, from The Feminist Wire

In Alice Walker’s short story “The Flowers” a little girl happens upon the decomposing body of a lynching victim while she is out picking flowers.  Walker contrasts the light tranquility of the girl’s walk with the savagery of her discovery; suggesting that to be a black child is to never be shielded from the “adult” horrors of racist dehumanization. As the girl lays down her wreath of flowers Walker’s narrator declares that “the summer was over”.   Summer’s metaphoric end signifies the brutality of a segregated nation in which black children are already othered, racialized, and criminalized in the pools, parks and recreational spaces that define white childhood innocence.

The videotaped assault and sexual harassment of 14 year-old Dajerria Becton by a rampaging white police officer after a pool party in McKinney, Texas makes it clear that it continues to be open season on black women and girls.  In the video officer Eric Casebolt grabs, straddles and violently restrains the young woman while she is lying face down on the ground in a bikini.  Ignoring her cries of pain and anxiety, he sadistically sits on her back while handcuffing her.  Casebolt then pulls a gun on a few young people who attempt to intervene.  Some of the good white citizens of McKinney have reportedly praised Casebolt’s thuggery.

The assault of Becton is an enraging reminder of the particular brand of sexual terrorism black women routinely experienced in the Jim Crow South at the hands of white law enforcement and ordinary white citizens.  In her important book, At the Dark End of the Street, Danielle McGuire chronicles how institutionalized sexual violence informed black women’s civil and human rights resistance.  Even as they were eclipsed in the mainstream civil rights movement by charismatic black male leaders, black women activists like Ida B. Wells, Recy Taylor, Claudette Colvin and Endesha Mae Holland drew on their experiences with sexual terrorism to galvanize black women organizers around the nexus of gender, race and class apartheid.

The McKinney incident underscores how even within the context of “recreation”, “normative” gender boundaries that automatically “feminize” young white women do not exist for young black women.  Little black girls can never occupy the space of carefree, feminine innocence that little white girls expect as their birthright.  They can never rely on the damsel in distress image to “rescue” them from American-as-apple pie state violence.  According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are suspended six times more than white girls and routinely vilified as aggressive menaces in school classrooms. It goes without saying that a black male police officer captured on video brutalizing and sitting on a bikini-clad teenage white girl would have been lynched before he returned to his precinct. It is tacitly understood that the scantily clad bodies of teenage white girls are sacrosanct cultural commodities; publicly guarded by law enforcement, privately available for the consumption of white heterosexist patriarchy.  Within the public domain these are the bodies that must be protected at all costs—from potential violation by predator white men and from the imagined, ever present “threat” of violent encroachment by men of color.

Socialized to see black women as chattel, thuggish police officers play on misogynist white supremacist stereotypes to justify their criminality under the color of law.  After months of community agitation, last summer’s heinous videotaped beating of Marlene Pinnock, a middle age African American homeless woman, by a white California Highway Patrol officer led to his firing.  Nonetheless L.A.’s black female district attorney has not seen fit to file criminal charges against him.  And the recent conviction of white female LAPD officer Mary O’Callaghan for assault—rather than involuntary manslaughter—in the death of 35 year-old Alesia Thomas is an anemic substitute for justice.

The McKinney police thug has been suspended from duty but there should be a national push for prosecution.  As with police beatings and murders of men of color, there is no special dispensation for black women victims of state violence, no “weaker sex” clause that mitigates the brutalization of black women’s bodies as hypersexualized policed space.  For black girls in the hallowed idyllic spaces that enshrine the privileges of white youth, summer is always over.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.  Her novel White Nights, Black Paradise on the Jonestown massacre and Peoples Temple is due in Fall 2015.  Twitter @sikivuhutch

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Police Criminals and the Brutalization of Black Girls
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4 thoughts on “Police Criminals and the Brutalization of Black Girls

  1. 1

    I am appalled at the lack of compassion and sympathy displayed by some in this nation. The fact that on many comment threads there lies just underneath the surface a strong and vibrant racism that would take at least two generations to educate out of those who hold this kind of thinking as reality. Many of those who without thinking propose to hold the police on a pedestal have given themselves over to a way of thinking that made colonialism and empire possible. Hegemony was and Is the goal of those who think this way. They seek only to enhance their position of privilege and power without any thought given to the consequences of their racist thinking and acting. I’m hopeful of the future, hopeful that the racist attitudes will change one day, but that will only happen when the educational system and the power structure is allowed to change and change into one where diversity is longed for and lauded.

  2. 2

    “Little black girls can never occupy the space of carefree, feminine innocence that little white girls expect as their birthright… …It is tacitly understood that the scantily clad bodies of teenage white girls are sacrosanct cultural commodities; publicly guarded by law enforcement”

    So what you’re saying is that teenage white girls have white female privilege that is not available to black girls, and white and black men, but that it should be extended to cover black girls as well?

  3. 3

    White women have something no black woman will have as long as that thing called “United States” exists: value beyond their measurable economic usefulness. A black woman must produce something of value to whites in order to earn her continued existence, not by some right, but by virtue of her productivity only. Any inconvenience she causes, even if it is just by accidentally being in the sight of whites, is charged against her productivity account, usually with a pretty hefty multiplier. So a black child, who is simply black under the American caste system, and who isn’t in a position to produce just yet, better not be causing any trouble.

    Whiteness, of course, transcends all those things. In the US, whites are not just regarded as better, or more intelligent, or more civilized than others. They’re considered higher beings who fundamentally have nothing in common with the “lower” races. The difference is qualitative, not just quantitative, and it raises them above being resources. They’re entitled to making mistakes, having moments of weakness, needing rest, entertainment, having pool parties. And because the society and economy whites have created are broken beyond repair, someone else has to pay for those luxuries. In the United States, that is and has always been black people, and most especially women.

    One of these days, I’ll write about the place of Romani women in this whole mess.

  4. 4

    I think you didn’t read into the point she made about the little girl stumbling across a dead body. A black girls innocence isn’t protected by our justice and social system. Her innocence isn’t fought or killed for by white men. And while I would argue that the young black body is still and always has been a greater commodity for these systems, this has led to the abuse and disregarding of black girls and by extension leads to the racialized violence where white police officers are beating and killing black children. The labeling of young black girls as troublemakers or uncontrollable and thus expendable or worse, a menace, sees black girls expelled from our educational and social institutions. These everyday biases applied wontonly by everyday white folks. If Ranisha McBride had been a white teenage girl, she would have been invited in to make a call and given a cup of hot chocolate. But since she was a black girl and instantly considered a threat by a white male gun owner, he shot her in the face instead. Had Tamir Rice been some little white trouble maker the cop would have given him time to drop the gun. But instead a white police officer burst out his speeding car like Terminator and shot a 12 year old boy dead. Thats the disparity in moral consistency a little black girl or boy has to be suffered with everyday in American.

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