The Barrel Roll Was the First Clue

Corporal Eric Casebolt of the Metropolitan Police Department of McKinney, Texas practiced for this moment. How many times must he have done that barrel roll wishing someone could see him, see how fast and agile he is?

And, by gum, if, after the roll, the fight wasn’t going to come to him, he’d go after it. He’d make it happen. He would turn a 14 year old girl into the enemy, throw her face down, knee her in the small of her back, and pull his gun on teenager boys who wanted to help her.

Now maybe that girl had said to him, “Stop it” or “You’re a racist cop.” But if she did, he wasn’t able to parse out this truth from the affront he felt to his personal sense of law and order, which includes African-American youth on the ground, immobile, some handcuffed, and one in a bikini face down with his knee in her back. Do you think she weighed 100 lbs? A little more, a little less?

He probably didn’t hear her call for her mother, either. It would have disturbed his belief she meant to do him bodily harm.

Cpl. Casebolt, the video seems to show, fits the profile of someone who bullies because as a child he was bullied or was afraid of being bullied. The macho strut became a habit, the obscenities the rule, the tough guy persona his self-image.

There were other policemen. We saw one stand with the youth and quietly tell them “Do not run.” He said it as a mature adult providing life advice for their good. The teenagers themselves said there were policemen who were helpful, and two rushed in when Cpl. Casebolt drew his gun. What would have happened if they hadn’t?

Those policemen are the policemen we rely on. I would like to know these policemen.

We also rely on videos – those recording eyes that bring the fight to all of us. Cpl. Casebolt may not have thought he was being videoed when he showed off his barrel roll. At that moment, it may be been just fun and games for him, but more people than he may have wished got to see him in action – and it was not fun and games.

Perhaps Cpl. Casebolt believed doing the tough cop thing was necessary against African-American youth when some of them were loud at a birthday pool party, when some of them didn’t live in the neighborhood, when a couple of them had a run in with a white woman who had yelled racist remarks at them.

Perhaps he believed he would teach them respect – or at least fear – by throwing them on the ground and drawing his gun. Surely he felt he was doing this for all policemen maligned for shooting African-Americans. Surely he felt he had their back and their backing. I want to think he was wrong about that.

I believe what he did puts other policemen – rational policemen – in a difficult and uncomfortable position. You can bet there are interesting conversations in the homes of the policemen who were with Cpl. Casebolt: Should I have intervened earlier? Done more? Why did I wait? Oh, right, it took me awhile to realize Casebolt had gone berserk, and I thought we could talk about it later but then, oh, man, he drew his gun.

In some ways I feel more for the good policemen than I do for the youth. I can’t help but think that the African-American youth had a civics lesson that has not ended – one in which people of all races rallied for them.

They will each need to come to terms with what happened to them and each other at the time and as the video went viral and as people reacted, and as justice is or is not served.

What do they plan to do about it? How does this change their plans for their future work? Let’s hope that resolve enters their bones to make of themselves people who work for justice and who make our world better in whatever way is best suited to them.

When the rest of us as youth, or adults, have had a party interrupted by police because we were too loud, it followed a pattern. The police arrived, possibly rang the doorbell. We answered and the policemen said, “Hey the neighbors are complaining. Keep it down, okay? If I have to come back, I will have to take someone in.”

That’s not a civics lesson, that is privilege, and it is easily forgotten. These young people will not forget. What they do with it is up to them, and they will decide that partially on what the rest of us do about policemen who have their senses of right and wrong skewed. Perhaps Corporal Casebolt did too many barrel rolls. That’s not a legitimate defense.