I sit in a row of cubicles toward the front of a large building in downtown Boston. One of my cubicle mates is a man from Malawi that I’ll call Paul. He is a handsome, intelligent man and we have become good friends in the past few years.
Today he asked me if I had seen what happened in McKinney, Texas. McKinney, a suburb of Dallas, is described as a “fast-growing, mostly middle-class suburb with deep racial and economic divisions.”* The setting was a suburban neighborhood on the west side of the city that is described as racially diverse. It is considered a place where there are good relationships between a diverse group of people.
The details slowly emerge. A pool party in a subdivision. A lot of teenagers. A white woman making a racial slur, telling the kid whose mom was hosting the party to “Go back to Section 8 housing; a physical fight; police called; and then an escalation of violence. It had all the ingredients of a tragedy. There was none, except for in the life of a 14-year old girl.
McKinney now joins the infamous ranks of places that have highlighted the racism present in the United States. Boston, Ferguson, Tamir Rice, “I can’t breathe”, Black Lives Matter, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin – these are the household words of the past couple of years.
And so I had seen what happened in McKinney. I had watched the video feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to throw up as I saw a man who should know better escalating a situation. I thought of my black friends and colleagues, and realized yet again that the world they live in is different from the world I live in.
But back to my colleague — Paul has two children: a beautiful daughter who just finished her freshman year of college, and a son who is in middle school. And when he saw the video of the 14-year old girl in a bikini, a towel wrapped around her, he saw his daughter. He saw his daughter thrown on the ground, her face in the grass. He saw his daughter, crying out for her mama. He saw an officer, knee on the back of a little girl, his little girl. Because he is black, and his daughter is black.
I have two daughters, and they are strong young women. One of them has been known to yell at a police officer, to shake her finger in his face. I am not proud of that, but I never worried that she would be thrown to the ground — because she lives in a different universe than Paul and his kids.
I’m not arguing the full case of McKinney here. I was not there. I know some of the story, but I don’t know all the story. I am arguing that you don’t throw a 14-year old girl to the ground. It’s not okay.
My heart is breaking for the Pauls and those they are raising – their girls and boys. My heart breaks for that little girl. I don’t care what she was yelling, that she was thrown on the ground, face to the grass, is not okay. She calls for her mama at least three times, and each time my heart breaks.
The United States is grossly arrogant when it comes to the world stage. We claim the moral high ground on every issue. We claim freedom, justice, liberty for all.
For all but Paul and the kids he’s raising.
I highly recommend this article from Austin Channing – This is What it’s Like. Here is an excerpt:
But for a moment. Before this becomes about you and your actions and your reactions and your thoughts and your assessment and your judgements, i need you to know two things.
1. I need you to know that she is fully human. I need you to know that she is a full person who exists outside this one moment and also felt every yank, tug, pull, press of what you watch. I need you to know that this is not “just another” anything. This is a moment in this girls life forever. She slept in her bed this weekend, and ate breakfast prepared by her momma, and received phone calls from her girlfriends, and is right now trying to make sense of how her body, mind, emotions and spirit will carry on in the world. She is human.
2. I need you to know that whatever feelings I had as I watched this unfold, whatever pain I felt, whatever reaction I had, God had tenfold. God felt every yank and pull. God felt every shooting pain and press of the body. God felt her sobs. For God knows the violence of this world, is intimately aware of state-sanctioned brutality. God needs not imagine. God knows. God knows this little girl’s pain, a pain she didnt choose and should not have endured. – Austin Channing