The Dallas Morning News
Tension troubling on Corinth video
This week, I read two compelling but contrasting essays about what happened during a minor police incident last weekend in the Denton County suburb of Corinth.
One was by University of North Texas journalism dean Dorothy Bland. The other was by the town’s police chief, based on the account of her officers.
The stop was captured on video. I urge you to watch it: It’s a Rorschach test.
What do you see? Is it two
police officers courteously making contact with a pedestrian who might be risking her safety by walking in the street while listening to headphones? Are the two cops trying to make polite conversation, even when she pulls out a cellphone and starts snapping their photos?
I’m going to crawl way out on a flimsy limb here and guess that if you’re an everyday hardworking, generally law-abiding white person, that’s the impression you get.
Or do you see two slightly condescending officers making a bigger-than-necessary deal out of a woman taking her daily exercise in her own neighborhood? Do you see them perhaps taking an extra and uncalled-for step, prolonging the encounter by asking for identification and running a record check on her because she’s an AfricanAmerican woman in a generally white suburban neighborhood?
Again, it might be that if you’re an everyday hardworking, generally law-abiding black person, that’s the way it strikes you.
Before we rush to choose sides, I’d like us to look one more time at this two-minute meeting between University of North Texas journalism dean Dorothy Bland and two Corinth police officers. The way we interpret it probably says a great deal about our beliefs, expectations and experiences in a nation that remains woefully divided along racial lines.
Imagine you’re the cops. Maybe you’re thinking, Hey, this is just a routine stop and ID check — why is this woman getting so bent out of shape? Why is she talking about how much she pays in taxes and where she lives? Why is she taking pictures, as if we had threatened or manhandled her?
OK, now imagine you’re Bland. I’m minding my own business, going for a walk. OK, I strayed out in the middle of a mostly deserted neighborhood street for a few seconds — can’t you just tell me to watch out, without delivering a condescending lecture? Why are you radioing in to confirm the identity of this “black female”: Do I look like a criminal? Why?
I can honestly see how both parties misread the other’s mind-set and cues. And that’s not because any of them — Bland or the officers — are bad or hateful people.
And when you consider the inflammatory series of encounters between white officers and black suspects we have seen just in the last year alone, you have to recognize that there’s a lot of baggage here. On Wednesday, a South Carolina school resource officer lost his job after another student captured video of him knocking a 16-year-old girl and her desk over and dragging her on the floor because she refused to put a cellphone away. Like it or not, these images are wedged in our heads.
After watching the Corinth video several times, I can only say this: There’s a thin veneer of politeness over a palpable tension on both sides.
That’s a problem. I wish I knew how to fix it, but I don’t even know where to start.