There is a moment in the McKinney, Texas pool party video that’s both horrifying and absurd: when Cpl. Eric Casebolt manhandles, violently restrains, then sits on top of an unarmed, 15-year-old, bikini-clad black girl as she cries for her mother.
The absurdity, of course, lies in how unnecessary and over-the-top Casebolt’s behavior is (earlier in the YouTube clip, he barrel rolls across a lawn for no reason in particular). But the horror emerges from the undertones of sexual violence in that instant. Casebolt pulls the girl by her hair, forces her face against the ground and presses his knee into her back -- all while she pleads for him to stop. Here's a grown man, forcing a young girl into submission against her will. The video acts as a prime example of the inherent reality of both physical and sexual harassment against black women and girls at the hands of cops.
The scene is reminiscent of a video that went viral last year. The clip featured 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock being punched repeatedly by California Highway Patrolman Daniel Andrew. Equally as problematic as his brute force was the compromising and dehumanizing position the patrolman had her in. Andrew straddled Pinnock as he beat her, with her torso and bra exposed. Pinnock later reached a settlement in the case, with Andrew never charged, and his sexual harassment never acknowledged.
You can view the video below.
Online campaigns like #sayhername and #blackwomenslivesmatter have attempted to highlight the discrimination black women face from police. And yet, while awareness is growing, a meaningful discussion has yet to begin about the oft-present undercurrents of sexual harassment.
It’s unsurprising, as there has been very little research about the connection between police brutality and sexual assault. According to the Cato Institute, over nine percent of the reported police misconduct in 2010 was sexual assault -- second only to the use of excessive force. Of that percentage, women of color are undoubtedly impacted.
For example, stop-and-frisk, the controversial policy that's been overwhelmingly viewed as a form of racial profiling, has affected black women just as it has affected black men. In 2012, Harlem Heights resident Crystal Pope relayed to theGrio the deep embarrassment and confusion she felt while being frisked by cops who stopped her while searching for a rapist on the loose.
“They patted around my waistline and butt. They were so aggressive,” Pope said. “It was all so intense and very upsetting."
It's that same deep embarrassment that's painfully visible on the face of the teen girl in the McKinney video. Casebolt's behavior, as in all cases of police brutality, was not about protecting and serving. It was about dominance, ego, and authority, and when confronted with a young black girl it manifested itself through a sexual and physical aggression that was patently inappropriate -- but unsurprising. There are some who will say that it is a "reach" to accuse Casebolt of sexual assault. But in the case of a grown man physically dominating a 15-year-old girl, it's hard to see how else it can be described.
Black female bodies have long been sites of trauma, carrying not only the weight of the past, but present stereotypes that dehumanize and sexualize young girls before they even hit puberty. Casebolt did not think he was restraining a helpless teenaged girl, but a "black woman," with all the stereotypes and stigma that includes. This, it seems, was justification enough for her treatment.
As the investigation continues, it remains to be seen of Casebolt will even be charged. But as outrage spreads, it's important that the victimization, humiliation, and inherent sexual harassment that takes place in the video does not go unchecked. Even now, supporters have come out for both the police force in McKinney and Casebolt, who has been suspended --- with pay. Owners of the pool where the incident occurred put up signs thanking the police for keeping them safe.
But what about the safety of the teenagers at the pool, for the young girl who was brutally restrained despite having nothing to do with the initial disturbance? We should show concern for them, too.