By Guest Contributor: Timmy Lu (@timmyhlu)
This post was first published on Facebook, and has been adapted for publication on Reappropriate.
There’s a widely shared and watched video floating around the web (after the jump) that features a Chinese American woman speaking at protests organized after a jury found Officer Peter Liang of the NYPD guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Akai Gurley.
It’s a slick and convincing video that uses the kind of politically correct, in vogue language that typically appeals to many Chinese and Asian American progressives like myself.
The message is also absolutely wrong.
The protests that have embroiled university campuses across this country over the past week are as much about free speech rights as GamerGate was about ethics in gaming journalism.
This is to say that although we would probably find value and relevancy in a debate about political restrictions that might exist to limit free speech in classrooms of higher education, what we’re seeing take place right now at Yale, University of Missouri, Ithaca College, and Claremont McKenna has very little to do with it. The protests taking place at these and other colleges and universities have almost nothing to do with attacks on free speech.
An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer. I repeat: an unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.
Last week, 16-year-old Shakara — a student at Spring Valley High School — was seen on cellphone video being thrown to the floor of her math classroom by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. Cellphone video shows that Shakara was seated at her desk and making no sudden moves immediately prior to the violent assault where Fields grabbed Shakara from behind by her neck, and flipped her over so suddenly that the desk she was seated in overturned with her, and then bodily drags her out of the tangle of plastic and metal to lie prone on the classroom floor (video embedded after the jump). Already, social justice activists have rightfully identified the incident as yet another example of excessive police force targeting a Black body for unnecessary and unprovoked violence.
Already, too, however, a chorus of naysayers have also chimed in. “Hold up,” they say, “we haven’t seen the ‘rest’ of the video.”
“We don’t know,” they say, “what Shakara did to provoke the attack.”
There is nothing a seated, unarmed, and non-violent teenager could do that would justify this kind of brutal assault.
In December of last year, I predicted that Officer Peter Liang — the rookie New York Police Department cop who fatally shot Akai Gurley in a dark stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses complex — might be the first (and perhaps only) police officer indicted in the killing of an unarmed Black man when this issue was captivating national headlines.
Earlier that year, the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson failed to result in an indictment for his killer Darren Wilson. Eric Garner’s death following an illegal chokehold administered by Daniel Pantaleo also did not produce an indictment. The shooting of unarmed John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart by police did not result in an indictment. The shooting of unarmed college student Jordan Baker by police in Houston did not result in an indictment. No charges were even filed against the Utah police who shot and killed Darrien Hunt, cosplaying with a replica sword at the time of his death.
In fact, post-Ferguson analysis suggests that although any district attorney worth their weight can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich“, this rule of thumb only seems to apply to civilians; indictment rates for police officers are markedly lower. Josh Voorhees estimates for Slate that most police officers are not indicted for on-the-job shootings: between 2005-2011, only 41 officers were ever indicted, which works out to only a little less than 7 indictments a year. Many sources further report that only 1 in 3 of those police officers who are actually indicted are ever convicted.
I predicted in December that Officer Peter Liang might be one of those police who would face indictment.
Earlier this year, unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson; earlier this month, a grand jury refused to indict Wilson of a crime in Brown’s death.
This above sentence is not partisan. It is not fantastic. It is not subjective. It is a factual description of the events in Ferguson over the last year.
Yet, this description — which reflects the general coverage of the Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath — seems to bother some within mainstream America. That’s because Michael Brown simply doesn’t fit neatly into one of the several pre-defined tropes available to Black men, or to people of colour, in general.
This description chafes because, to them, there’s no such thing as Black humanity.