Culture, Science & Faith

Can't We All Just Get Along?

The latest story of cops versus minorities comes from McKinney, Texas.

Nate Jackson · Jun. 10, 2015

The plural of anecdote is not data. And yet when anecdotes repeatedly fit a narrative, it becomes ever more difficult to separate the two — especially when those pushing the narrative control the media.

The latest story of cops versus minorities comes from McKinney, Texas, where Cpl. Eric Casebolt of the city’s police department took down a black teenage female while being videoed. As the video went viral, the narrative was reinforced: Racist white cops target blacks.

As usual, however, it’s a bit more complicated.

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Residents say a woman invited a group of teens to the neighborhood pool for a birthday party, but the homeowners’ associations limits homeowners to two guests. When 130 unruly teens descended on the pool, hopping fences and engaging in fights, concerned residents called the police. Casebolt was among three officers (at least on film) who responded.

A few of the teens bolted from the officers, who gave chase. Several teens ended up in handcuffs, with others trying to explain themselves and still others jawing at the cops. Most of them largely ignored police instructions, though otherwise presented no perceivable threat.

But the real brouhaha centered on Casebolt’s treatment of one bikini-clad girl, whom he pulled from a group and wrestled to the ground while cursing at her. Several teens rushed forward, prompting Casebolt to briefly draw his sidearm and chase off two large boys. He then held the girl down by kneeling on her back while continuing to curse at numerous other teens.

Second, let it be acknowledged that all we see are seven minutes of footage; we don’t know all the details that prompted the police call or their response. The police department issued a statement indicating they responded to a disturbance “involving multiple juveniles at the location, who do not live in the area or have permission to be there, refusing to leave.” Beyond that and the explanations of residents and teenagers, the story is hazy. One resident claimed the kids “assaulted” security guards near the pool, and well as accosted a mom and her kids. The teens in the video claim to merely be there for a birthday party.

Now, the lessons. For all of us citizens, follow (reasonable) instructions and don’t run from the police. Officers don’t take kindly to having to chase down even innocent bystanders — who they don’t know are innocent and must assume, based on the behavior of fleeing, may be guilty of a crime. Or, in the not-so-eloquent phrasing of Cpl. Casebolt, “Don’t make me f—ing run around here with 30 pounds of G—d—ed gear on in the sun!”

For officers, assume you’re always on camera and that your actions will be evaluated based on the footage. Casebolt surely knows the rationale for his actions beyond what we see, but it’s hard to come away from the video sympathizing with his severely agitated and bullying response.

In fact, Casebolt resigned Tuesday evening. Announcing that at a press conference, McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley called Casebolt’s actions “indefensible.”

A pseudonymous California officer pondered, “In watching the video, one can’t help but observe that Casebolt is alone among the officers in being exercised about what is happening. Was he aware of facts his colleagues were not? If so, and if these facts somehow warranted his actions, did he share his knowledge with the other officers? And what of the girl in the bikini? What was it that motivated Casebolt to choose her, among all the others, to be detained?

"And as for Casebolt drawing his pistol, in this — and only this — there appears to be some justification. The two young men who rushed forward were both at least equal in size to the officer, and it isn’t unreasonable to suppose they might have been preparing to attack Casebolt had he not reacted as he did. The brandishing of the weapon had the desired effect of making the young men run away.”

It’s easy to assume Casebolt acted with undue force given that no one (on video) was resisting arrest or behaving violently, and his takedown of a girl was preemptive at best. Then again, cops are facing unusually high tension across the nation, especially when dealing with blacks, and that is arguably due to overheated race-bait rhetoric from those who benefit politically from unrest.

Clearly, we have a deep cultural problem: Many citizens feel entitled and aggrieved, and they have no guiding moral standards for encounters with the law. And many cops feel either under siege or overly powerful — or both. Until these variables shift in a better direction, every law enforcement encounter will be magnified.

Update: Casebolt’s lawyer said (beginning at 9:00 in the video below), “He recognizes that his emotions got the best of him.” That’s putting it mildly, though it’s quite an admission for a lawyer. She added that Casebolt had already responded to two suicide calls that day — one successful by a man with a family.

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