My stomach churns watching the news and my Facebook feeds right now. Watching a young, precocious, African-American woman being violently thrown to the ground by a white, male police officer makes me feel all the worst feels.
There should be no doubt or question in our minds that this is a clear and blatant instance of domestic violence against this young woman who was sitting in her seat in class. Domestic violence in our schools: an entrusted police officer, sworn to protect and serve the students of that school, suddenly and overtly begins brutally attacking the student who had recognized her wrong-doing (using her cell phone in class) and was asking to not be removed from her class (which is certainly within our rights to do – we should be able to advocate for ourselves, to apologize when we broke a rule, and given the chance to make it right).
As a survivor and former victim of abuse, I am triggered watching those images. I am triggered by my own horror stories of a white man who had sworn to love and honor me, towering over me and using his 280+ lb. body to forcefully control my behavior that he thought was out of control. In reality it was his behavior that was out of control.
As a woman watching these images, my spine becomes frozen in place by a cold, stiff hand of terror because someone who had sworn to uphold the (fair and just) law was clearly breaking the law.
As a white woman I am ashamed watching these images – that the police officer in the videos could be the guy I went to high school with, could be my former co-worker, he is someone who grew up probably a lot like I grew up, with the same values and traditions and biases.
As an advocate watching these images, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I ponder quietly, if I had been there, would I have had the guts to yank that police officer off of her and give him a piece of my mind? Could I have been fearless enough to risk my own arrest and violence against my own person, in defense of this young woman?
As a mother I am outraged at these images. If this were my daughter, and I got that phone call, and I saw that video appear in my feed, would I be able to afford to pursue litigation in order to demand justice for my daughter? Would I, if I were a black mother, have the resources and ability to sue the police department of my county? Would I be able to walk back into my daughter’s school without burning down the place? Would I be able to look that principal in the eye ever again without burning my stare right through his or her heart?
As a former youth, a former student who trusted the security team at my school, I weep. I weep that those who are sworn to “protect me” are the very ones who committed horrendous acts against my body and my person. Men love to make themselves heroes at my expense, men love to tell themselves that they love me and they wish to protect me. What my actual experience has taught me, however, is that men will commit evil against me while saying they are protecting me. That they are protecting me from myself. Men will tell me to my face that they must commit violence against me in order to protect me from myself.
That is precisely what this police officer did to this young woman, and also to the girl who tried to defend her. That officer beat them down to protect themselves from worse. I have been studying patterns of abuse against women for six years of my life now. I fail to understand how being body-slammed and dragged out of my chair would be better for me than punishment. Most teachers post a very clear classroom code of conduct, including consequences of using a cell phone in class. Being rejected from the classroom or sent to the principal’s office are certainly reasonable consequences; having one’s head beaten to the ground in a violent act of aggression is not a reasonable consequence.
Just like fathers who guilt and shame their daughters so they won’t have sex until they are married, but then when the girl falls in love they threaten violence against her boyfriend because she can’t possibly know what love is. So he feels he must protect her from herself.
I call this form of punishment that occurs before crimes are even committed, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy that men brandish against women. The list of behaviors that women are expected to conform with are long and strict and restrictive and oppressive – and fathers and husbands and police officers line up to “punish” women and girls for stepping out of that conformist oppressive line. Women are told that only “bad guys” will mistreat them, stay away from the bad guys because those are the ones who will be mean and nasty to you. But then when women report abuse, and when women are filmed being abused, it is always the ones who are supposed to be good guys that are abusing them. It is almost as if men were so anxious to prove to women just how mean men can be, that they themselves must be mean to them in order to prove just how mean men can be.
This is the dynamic of abuse, when it occurs by those in position of trust and authority. Those who are sworn to protect, but then end up harming the very ones they swore to protect – this particular officer has other cases against him so I’m not even sure he has ever seen his position as a position of protecting, but rather as a position of unquestioned authority. Unquestioned authority will always abuse the power it is given.
I am positive that there is not a single behavior code in American schools that calls out for women to be beaten into the ground for using a cell phone in class. Nor is there a requirement that calls for dragging a student by her neck when she asks to please not be removed from her class, that she promises to behave herself. And I know that no parent has ever signed a code of conduct that included being arrested for standing up when a police officer abuses his power and authority. These are fear tactics and emotional warfare being used against women, being used against Black women who happen to still be minors.
The message is clear: if you are a woman, and you step out of the line of expected behavior, you can expect the men in authority over your life to make your worst nightmares come true. If you are that woman, you don’t have to wait for the bad guy to find you in the dark alley, the bad guy is the one who swore to protect you. The bad guy is the one you trusted.