By now, many of you have probably already seen the disturbing video of a high school girl in South Carolina being flipped over and dragged out of her desk by a police officer for refusing to comply with his orders. In case you haven’t seen it yet, the following video captures the scene from two different angles:
After seeing a video like this one, people’s reactions are usually split into two groups:
- This is completely and utterly unacceptable.
- We don’t know the whole story.
Full disclosure: I happen to belong to group #1.
Now, within the racially-charged time that we find ourselves in, it is hard to ignore the fact that the young girl in the video is black and the officer is white. And when it is pointed out that videos like this one–with a white officer being overly brutal with black citizens–are popping up with a disturbing regularity, many people (mostly white folks) are quick to bring up the “One Bad Apple” defense. There are quite a few things that white people do when you point out racism. I wrote about 13 of them HERE. But it’s true… I don’t really know that racism was a factor at all. It’s possible that this officer (his name is Ben Fields) reacts with the brand of anger and violence that is displayed in this video whenever ANY kid–regardless of the color of their skin–refuses to show him the respect he believes he is due. It turns out that Officer Fields has been dating an African American woman for quite some time… Maybe race had nothing to do with it. I don’t know.
But it looks to me as though a large portion of the public–especially the people viewing these videos who happen to have white skin–seems to be more inclined to join group #2 when the person experiencing what appears to be police brutality fits their description of someone who looks like a “trouble maker.” These are the same people who looked at this video…
… and wanted to withhold judgment because “we don’t know the whole story.”
Well, these people are right. We don’t know the “whole story.” We rarely do. Because the WHOLE story is a lot more comprehensive than the story of what that young girl said or did or refused to do immediately before the video started those kids’ cell phones started rolling. I don’t know this girl, and I certainly don’t know her “whole story.”
Maybe her whole story involves her listening as a parent told one of her brothers the rules for how to interact with police officers and stay alive–rules that I never felt the need to inform my white children of….
Maybe her whole story involves her watching the video above of the young black girl at the pool party getting manhandled and brutalized by a white officer for the crime of not moving as quickly as he thought she should…
Maybe her whole story involved watching them raise that confederate flag right back up the flagpole in Charleston, South Carolina after Bree Newsome climbed up there and took it down…
Or maybe her whole story involves her watching videos of a number of other black men in South Carolina who had their lives ended by white men wearing a badge just like the one Officer Fields (known to the kids of that school as Officer “Slam” for the way he once handled a pregnant woman, as well as other students) was wearing that day. Videos like like this one showing Walter Scott being shot eight times and murdered as he ran away from a South Carolina officer…
Or, it’s even possible that her “whole story” involved her expecting that her own arrest to be less violent than it turned out to be… You know, more peaceful–like the arrest of the person who had just murdered nine black folks as they worshipped in their Church…
So yeah, we definitely don’t know the “whole story.”
Because when we know a person’s whole story, we start to understand where they’re coming from. We empathize with them. We start to see the places where their story is like our story. It makes gross things like stereotyping and prejudice a lot more difficult. When you know a person’s whole story, it’s much more difficult to not love them. And when that happens, we start to suspect that EVERYONE has more to their story than we can easily see at first glance.
And you know what? That goes for Officer Ben Fields as well. I’m not saying that there is any excuse for the way he threw that young girl around–There isn’t. And actions like these should have consequences–especially for the one in a position of power. It’s clear that this guy shouldn’t be in a position of authority, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun, and he definitely shouldn’t be working around kids… But we don’t know his whole story either. We don’t know what kind of lies he has believed… what kind of abuses he has endured. We don’t need to demonize this man. But when we see a video like this, the only right response is to say, “This is not OK.” If we are ever looking for the “whole story,” it should never be in an attempt to excuse this sort of violence… Knowing a person’s whole story is how we keep this sort of thing from happening again.
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I just found out that the girl in the classroom is LIVING IN FOSTER CARE (not orphaned as was earlier reported). So yes, the WHOLE STORY is so very important. God bless.