McKinney, Texas and the Need for Empathy

Slow

Earlier this year, Alissa Wilkinson wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled, “In Praise of Slow Opinions.” In the piece, she cautioned against what has become commonplace in today’s news—the “hot take.” Attempting to define the phenomenon, she states that it involves two important pieces:

“(1) a weak, quickly-made argument that is (2) written basically to garner lots of traffic.”

In other words, it’s when someone throws together an opinion piece designed to attract a lot of readers. Typically, these come off as lopsided and extreme, mainly because they often have a predetermined agenda enforced by straw man arguments that lack thoughtful, nuanced opinion. If you have a social media account and functioning eyeballs, then you’ve had plenty of examples over the last few weeks, most notably stories on Caitlyn (formerly, Bruce) Jenner and the upcoming Supreme Court decision over gay marriage.

Now, let’s take a minute for honesty. This is easy to do. There’s a valuable place for quick thinking. But there’s also a negative side as impulsive opinions relieve us of the heavy lifting. Who needs thoughtful engagement when you can pump out a series of tweets and put the issue behind you? After all, as Alissa rightly notes:

“The Internet does not reward nuanced takes or people who wait a week and a half to think something through, and the Internet especially does not reward people who say, You know? I’m not sure I’ve figured out what I think on this yet.”

At this point, you’ve surely heard of this past weekend’s news in McKinney, Texas where police were called to the Craig Ranch community pool to attend to a disturbance, which then escalated to the now infamous video of a hot-headed police officer berating a group of teenagers, all of which were black. As soon as the story broke, it set off a whirlwind of opinion pieces claiming racism, calling for justice, and groaning for reform. As a result, they created what I believe to be an unfair dichotomy. On the one hand, if you justified the officer’s actions you were considered racist, or at the very least, calloused. On the other hand, if you sympathized with the teens, you were out-of-touch with no concern for the law.

Again, we’re all guilty of this at some point. Impulsive comments earn a short-term following, but they don’t make for constructive conversation. They also don’t make room for empathy. Instead, they force you to blame a victim and pick a side leaving little time to pause and try to imagine walking in another person’s shoes.

So, let’s set the scene. Friday evening, a public pool party was advertised at the Craig Ranch community pool. Teens from around the area arrived ready to kick off their summer break. What happened next is somewhat murky depending on who you ask, but at the very least it’s clear that a fight broke out between one of the black teens and an adult white woman over allegedly racist remarks. Some of it was even filmed. As a result, the police were called and that’s when the video begins.

As the viewers, we see sidewalks littered with people clad in beach towels and bathing suits. We see a police officer calmly advising some of the teens not to run when the authorities arrive, politely thanking one of them as they return a lost flashlight. Then, we see Officer Eric Casebolt hero-rolling in the grass, running down the street, ordering kids to sit on the curb, handcuffing some, and verbally berating them with severely unprofessional language.

To make matters worse, as he attempts to drive away a group of teenage girls, one of them hesitates to leave having been told by her mother to wait there until she comes to pick her up. At this, Officer Casebolt grabs the girl and forces her to the ground where he kneels on her and pushes her face into the grass. As those around him (rightly) react in horror, he draws his gun at two advancing black males. When they retreat, he returns to the girl and pins her to the ground as she cries for her mother.

Here’s where we should be asking some serious questions. Is this worthy of a self-justifying post on Facebook? Is it worth forsaking empathy to make a short-lived point? Why not ask what seem to be the more pressing questions, such as: What was he thinking? Why were the black kids the sole targets of his belligerent treatment when white individuals were visibly left to witness the scene without question? What about the situation was so threatening that it required this kind of behavior? Perhaps more importantly, why are so many of us so threatened by the question of whether systemic racism played a part in this situation? What history or worldview might cause a black community to see this as a flagrant abuse of justice? What causes you not to?

I’m not naïve. We don’t have all the details. Maybe some of those kids didn’t have permission to be there. Maybe the DJ event wasn’t officially sanctioned by the community. Maybe the alleged racist remarks weren’t instigated by the white adults at the pool. Maybe some of those kids need stricter discipline. If that’s the case, I hope it’s given. In the days ahead, an investigation will take place and answers will come to light. But clearly, the situation was under control as the teens responded to the calm demeanor of every other officer. There’s no excuse for this kind of behavior. Even McKinney’s Chief of Police agrees that Officer Casebolt’s actions were “indefensible.” It’s also important to note that he accurately commended the other eleven officers on the scene for their professional performance.

Which is why I’m baffled by how anyone can watch this adult police officer pin down a 15-year old, bikini-clad girl forcing her face in the ground and find it justifiable.

We’d be short-sighted to think that the 1960s civil rights legislation cured our country of racism. Just last month, I was visiting some friends to celebrate their recently purchased first home. As we were viewing their backyard, we met their next-door neighbor who had lived in his home for over 50 years. When my wife asked how he liked the neighborhood, he nostalgically lamented the fact that his fellow residents were no longer all white. “Too many Mexicans,” he said.

This, in the heart of Dallas, Texas. My home is only fifteen minutes south of the Craig Ranch neighborhood in McKinney.

Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone sticking up for the police. Some (thankfully) exercise caution over making damaging claims without proof. And we owe a debt of gratitude to those who faithfully and nobly serve to protect our communities as police officers. But, in this case, we have to acknowledge the possibility. Otherwise, we risk denial of the wide-reaching history of systemic racial injustice within America, even in recent days. And we have to acknowledge the long history of suffering experienced by minority communities as well. While we may not be the direct cause of it, our refusal to face it with empathy can perpetuate it. If nothing else, at the very least we should humble ourselves to consider the ways in which people’s life experiences differ from our own. This will not be the last incident of its kind. And we do our own communities harm if we cower from asking the difficult questions as a result.

So please, slow down. Consider the person who stands as the target of your opinions. Make room for empathy. And pray for this situation—that the now-resigned officer would find grace for his errors; that the teenage girl would respond with forgiveness rather than bitterness; and that the community would embrace healing.

Even more importantly, make room to consider your own heart and strive for empathy towards those who see life differently than you. The world is full of disenfranchised, minority, and oppressed individuals. The responsibility of Christians is not to perpetuate that reality by distancing ourselves from it, but to stoop in humility, as Christ has done so abundantly through his death and resurrection.

We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).

For further reading, I’d recommend these helpful articles:

Questions Concerning McKinney: Was it Racism? by Jim Denison

McKinney, Texas, and the Racial History of American Swimming Pools by Yoni Applebaum

Racism and #McKinney by Matt Emerson

McKinney, Privilege, and Our Circle of Concern by Mike Cosper

*PHOTO BY LUC B (CC)
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