The difference in the treatment of domestic violence allegations against NFL Cleveland Browns player Johnny Manziel and his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, both white, in 2015, and former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then fiancé, Janay Palmer, both black, in 2014, shows how bias in policing protects whites from criminalization and, in this instance, may well have let a batterer go free.
On October 12, 2015, police in Avon, OH, responded to 911 calls about a domestic disturbance in a vehicle. 911 callers had also described Manziel as speeding, erratically on Interstate 90. Dash-cam footage recorded Manziel's girlfriend telling police that, "Manziel had hit her multiple times, including pushing her head up against the glass. Additionally, she told the officer investigating the incident that she feared for her life." Still, she said she didn't want to make a big deal out of the incident.
Alcohol also seems to have been a factor. Officers reported that Crowley was intoxicated and while they smelled alcohol on Manziel's breath police did not administer a sobriety test to Manziel. In fact, both were allowed to leave. No charges filed.
Manziel's treatment seems to affirm recent findings on how officers use their discretion in ways that allow whites to elude punishment. For example, officers searched blacks "more than twice as often as white motorists -- even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white."
It also starkly contrasts how police handled the incident involving Ray Rice. Roughly 18 months ago, police arrested Ray Rice and Janay, now his wife, on simple assault charges after a violent altercation left her unconscious in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. Once video of the beating went viral, Ray's charges were bumped up to aggravated assault while those against Janay were dropped.
Professionally, Ray's initial slap on the wrist turned into a termination from the Baltimore Ravens and an indefinite suspension from the league. Though he would be reinstated to the NFL after winning on appeal.
Many argued that Ray Rice was himself a victim of a racist double-standard because white athletes had also been involved in domestic disputes with little to no consequences. Still, Rice avoided a criminal record by being admitted to a pretrial intervention program typically reserved for non-violent offenders. That Rice faced a consequence at all contrasts the realities for most black victims. African American women experience domestic violence at a rate 35 percent higher than white women.
Even so, this violence is a national problem - though one might not know it based on how police handled Manziel's public dispute. Moreover, the NFL just concluded its own investigation and as expected Manziel will get a pass there too.
Some will deny this is an example of white privilege filtering Manziel and Crowley out of the justice system, but it's difficult to read this chain of events as anything else; except perhaps, as compelling evidence of the preeminence of white patriarchy, because while officers did not criminalize Crowley (as they initially did Janay), they also did not protect her. Intimate partner violence is underreported, in part because the women, who comprise 85 percent of the victims, do not believe police will do anything about it, which appears to be especially true if the suspect is a wealthy, white NFL player.
This is also what makes structural and institutional inequity so insidious. Since the Rice episode and subsequent high profile cases, the NFL did implement a more robust process including a mandatory training course on domestic violence and specific criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. But since Manziel was not charged, he really couldn't be subject to any of these new rules.
The NFL could potentially offset how structural bias impacts the treatment of black and white players by perhaps getting their own investigators to these scenes alongside the police to conduct independent inquiries at the ground level. But even if such an effort was possible, there is no guarantee the NFL investigators would be any less biased than the local police departments.
Manziel should have received a sobriety test at a minimum. Instead, Manziel does not just seem to be the beneficiary of a get-out-of-jail free card, but also it's looking like his career in the NFL won't skip a beat. And, if Manziel was in fact guilty, he now has no incentive to skip beating either.