Making Music with Racism

05/09/2017 01:04 pm ET

I saw a video last week at Woodland Hills High School outside Pittsburgh, PA that I need to talk about. The video begins with a 15-year-old boy sitting in what appears to be the principal's office in a chair with his hands on a folder in his lap. Officer Steve Shaulis walks into the lobby of the apparent principal's office, grabs the boy by the arm bringing him to his feet. Shaulis then locks the underside of his elbow under the boy's chin in a headlock. They tussle down the hallway of the office before Shaulis lifts the boy off his feet and slams him to the ground. The commotion alarms another school employee who comes into the hallway. That employee holds the boy's head to the ground while Shaulis cuffs him. The boy was charged with resisting arrest. 

So many questions. What would ever make it okay for a grown man to choke out and slam a 15 year old? Why did the other guy jump in and pin the boy's head down? What had the boy done in the first place to deserve punishment and does that even matter? What prompted Shaulis to enter the room and immediately escalate the level of force?

It's irresponsible to dissect and analyze this story by asking the aforementioned and forgetting to also include the following: what were the races of the parties involved?

Now, some will claim that race has nothing to do with it and that introducing race as a potential factor is itself the act of irresponsibility. That by implying that race played a role at all, it clouds the conversation and distracts from the facts. You may remember Christopher Darden making this argument for the District Attorneys office in the OJ Simpson trial regarding the use of the n-word. 

However, excluding race from the conversation is like composing music without the vowel notes (A,E). You could still make good music, but not as good of music as you could with all of the notes. And it would be a challenge, a challenge to be proud of upon completion even. But too often, that pride clouds the fact that the song would have been better if you used all the notes on the keyboard. We can make a song and call it “Justice” and people with less-tuned ears will think it’s a great song, but the people who know the vowels are missing see that the song is incomplete. But most people like the song as is, creating a heightened risk in doing a remix, so they don’t. And the people with knowledge of the incompleteness are expected to lower their musical standards and expectations.

But I still haven't addressed my initial questions. What would ever make it okay for a grown man to choke and body slam a 15 year old? Think of your answer to that question. 

What would ever make it okay for a White man to choke and body slam a Black 15 year old? Think of your answer. 

What would ever make it okay for a Black man to choke and body slam a White 15 year old? Think of your answer. 

If race doesn't matter, then the answer should be the same for all three scenarios. Ask yourself, were they?  

This incident perfectly highlights the dichotomy why and how Blacks and Whites perceive police presence differently. Officer Shaulis entered the room and lifted the boy from a seated position, seemingly to arrest him. We don’t know what the boy did prior, maybe he deserved to be arrested. That doesn't matter, though. Shaulis immediately put him in a headlock, rather than, what would seemingly be police protocol, to cuff him while he’s turned around. 

Now, to everyone reading this. If a person is behind you with your head in a choke hold, what would you do? Honestly. At a certain time, fight or flight kicks in; physiologically, as humans. Adrenaline is a real thing. Don’t believe me, find a random person and walk up behind them, apply a solid choke hold and observe what happens. My point exactly. And please, no one actually try that. 

So to perceive the boy as somehow resisting arrest while ignoring the physiological factors that he is being choked by a man much stronger than him is irresponsible. To take it a step further, also imagine that the person choking you has “Protect and Serve” stitched in his shirt and that there’s no one that can usurp his authority in that moment to save you. So, now, psychologically, this 15 year-old boy, and his still developing adolescent brain, is not only experiencing a traumatic event but when he looks back, that will be apart of the foundation of his interaction with police. 

Now, the other side of this coin is the other school employee, the guy that held down the boys head while Shaulis cuffed him. Let’s see things from his perspective for a second. By the way, he also happened to be White. He hears a commotion outside his office and goes to check on it. He sees an officer and a boy grappling and then the boy gets body-slammed. Possibly unaware of any of the lead up, he assumes that the officer must be in the right and that the student is being insubordinate. There’s no audio so it’s unclear if the employee was instructed to pin the boy’s head down or if he did it on his own. 

Either way, imagine the teacher was Black. Does the Black teacher pin the kid’s head to the floor on command? Would the Black teacher think to do it him/herself? Does the Black teacher get involved at all? Race matters…

Still don’t agree? Why wasn’t the same protocol applied to the arrest of murderer of nine Dylan Roof afforded to this young man at Woodland Hills High School? Those police officers went out and bought him Burger King

Regardless of the actual motives, regardless of how present those motives were in their consciousness, just observe the optics. How are these two arrests conducted under the same justice system? 

It’s uncomfortable. It’s ugly. It’s emotional. But race is a real thing and it influences people everyday and to attempt to dismiss it from the conversation only reinforces it’s borders. 

I'm not here to speculate on Shaulis' history of violence at the school or what nuances can't be perceived from the video or the boy's background. I'm only here to point out that this video serves as an opportunity to see the spectrum of how Whites and Blacks interact with the police and if you're one of those people always asking "why does it have to be racial"? You're probably also one of the people in love with the incomplete song. Give yourself a chance to hear the full song.

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