You could hear her cry for her mother as the police officer slammed her to the ground, with his knee firmly planted in her back. She was only 14 -- celebrating the end of the school year -- at a community pool. She, along with several other teenagers, was forcefully restrained after a neighbor called the police. Their offense? Being African-American in a predominantly white neighborhood in McKinney, Texas.
Texas has a history of ripping away simple freedoms and is notorious for racial profiling. Recently, state lawmakers have been busy making abortion and reproductive health care inaccessible to women -- but why stop there? Texas is also number one in the country for executions. In addition to being one of the states that holds immigrant children at overcrowded detention centers at the state's border. Many of these occurrences fly under the radar, being underreported and, at times, dismissed. We probably would have been none the wiser about this incident at the pool had a video of this young girl being brutalized by a Texas cop not gone viral.
Days later, another video of police officers arresting African-American children and a pregnant mother at a pool surfaced in Fairfield, Ohio. This time, a twelve-year-old girl was reportedly thrown against a police car as she was taken into custody. This incident started when the girl's family was ordered to leave the pool because one of the boys did not have swim trunks. When an argument broke out between the mother and the pool employees, the police stepped in.
Sadly instances like the ones in McKinney and Fairfield are happening in towns and cities across the country.
Some contend that police officers were justified in taking extreme actions. They argue that these unarmed victims presented a "threat" or "resisted arrest." After all, the first priority of the police is to protect the community and themselves from violence.
Statistics tell a very different story. People of color are arrested more often and suffer harsher sentences than their white counterparts. Racial profiling is not only well documented; it is standard procedure for far too many police officers. In addition, African-Americans in particular are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries.
Even more disturbing is that our society of violence expands further. This week, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, an off-duty police officer shot and killed his ex-wife after pursuing her in a car chase. Although another officer was nearby at a routine traffic stop, when officers arrived on the scene they recognized their colleague and attempted to negotiate with him. At the time, the officer was in his vehicle with his daughter, holding a gun to his own head. The officers convinced him to allow them to remove the child but as soon as the child was out of the car, the assailant exited his car, walked to the front of his ex-wife's car, and shot through the windshield.
While officers are placing their knees in the backs of unarmed teenagers in Texas and Ohio, an armed suspect -- who held his daughter hostage, chased down his ex-wife, and eventually killed her -- was allowed to shoot and kill a woman without officers firing one shot to protect the victim, the bystanders or themselves.
Our criminal justice system is not just. If you are a person of color, the very people who are supposed to protect you are often the greatest threat. It is worse for women of color, the fastest growing prison population.
The brutal treatment of African-American women in our country isn't novel; it has spanned centuries. When we see police officers brutally manhandle young girls, it is clear that they are not valuing them the same as white children. If only the police placed the value on all lives as they do their own colleagues. Like the officer who killed his ex-wife who had recently divorced him after years of alleged physical abuse in New Jersey. Even with people looking on, the police valued their colleague's life more, choosing him rather than use lethal force.
The harsh reality of this type of brutality is that, even when faced with the glaring truth, the victims are blamed and excuses are made for the assailants. The truth is that our country has a culture of violence that is glaringly apparent, disparately focused on people of color, and assigns different values to the lives of women. Black lives matter. Women's lives matter. These statements are not just hashtags or trending topics, but the building blocks of our movements. Movements that place value on the lives of all people and demand an end to the systematic culture of violence that has been accepted by our society.