Stop Asking What Happened Before Someone Started Filming Police Brutality

Asking what happened before the video started is a question rooted in racism — and the answers are irrelevant.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 27 : A man stands with his hands up as he  protest the shooting of Laquan McDonald who was killed by a Chicago police officer November 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged Tuesday with first degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times last year on the southwest side of Chicago after Van Dyke was responding to a call of a knife wielding man. The dash-cam video of officer Van Dyke shooting McDonald was released by the Chicago Police department earlier this week after a judge denied Van Dyke bail during his bond hearing at Leighton Criminal Court. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

A man stands with his hands up as he protests the shooting of Laquan McDonald, who was killed by a Chicago police officer Nov. 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Black people don’t wear body cameras. We probably should, but we aren’t filming 360 degrees of our lives 24/7. So when an everyday black man, woman, boy, or girl ends up being confronted with racism or bigotry or police brutality of some kind, it just so happens that the filming tends to start when the horror is already well underway.

That’s an important and necessary fact to lift up. When black folks are literally just living our lives, going about our business, we don’t think, “Golly, I should probably start filming right now just in case brutality or bigotry breaks out so that I have the beginning, middle, and end of it all on film.”

That’s not how life works – not for African-Americans – or for anybody.

So when a horrible viral video of racism or police brutality makes rounds online, it’s rare that the video starts before the encounter begins. By the time a bystander, or the victim, has the thought, “I should I pull out my camera and begin filming this,” the ugliness is normally well underway.

And it’s that fact that is now producing a tired trope I hear every single day from people who witness the awful videos and then ask the question, “But what happened before this was being filmed?”

The question itself is rooted in racism. When we witness African-Americans being brutalized in the most horrific ways imaginable, when we see discrimination of the worst degree humiliating or degrading African-Americans who just want to live their lives in peace, what happened before someone was forced to consider the need to begin filming an incident really does not matter.

Here’s why.

The question is most often asked because the person asking wants to believe that the brutality or discrimination was necessary and justified.

What I am telling you is that brutality and racial discrimination are never justified.

Last Thursday, a video surfaced of a young black man named Anthony Wall being brutally choked, pushed up against a wall, and nearly lifted off his feet by an enormous police officer in Warsaw, North Carolina. Wall, 22 years old and dressed in a prom tux, had just taken his younger sister to her high school prom. They went to a Waffle House afterward.

When the staff at the Waffle House called the police on Wall, the officer arrived. By the time the filming begins, the officer is just moments away from choking Wall, then slamming him to the ground.

We know from the arrest that Wall was unarmed and nonviolent. He was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He could’ve really argued with the staff at Waffle House, but whatever he did or did not do, it will never justify this officer’s actions. Period.

The same is true for the brutal police assault of Chikesia Clemons at another Waffle House outside Mobile, Alabama. Police were called when a dispute broke out over her being asked to pay 50 cents for utensils. When police got there, she was eventually slammed to the ground, choked, mounted, and manhandled in such a way that her blouse came off, exposing her breasts in front of everyone.

Throughout it all, she was nonviolent and achingly calm. Nothing she did before the video could warrant what she got in return.

The same is true for the police officer in Miami who ran and punt-kicked the head of a nonviolent man who was already being arrested and under the control of another police officer. I don’t care what happened before that video was being filmed. Nothing warrants such an attack.

The same is true for the Shreveport, Louisiana, police officer who threatened and humiliated a young man after police were called because his music was too loud. Nothing – nothing at all — would ever warrant an officer speaking to this young man like this.

The same question — what happened before the filming started? — was asked when police were called on two young black men at Starbucks last month. It’s as if secret evidence existed that would justify arresting two young black men who were simply waiting to meet a friend. The story did not fully take a turn toward the black men’s side of the encounter until several (white) witnesses came forward to say that they had seen the whole encounter and that the men had done absolutely nothing wrong.

Here is what I know: All over this country, when white men, young and old, commit mass shootings, slaughtering dozens and dozens of people, those men are routinely brought in and arrested without incident. Police are able to conduct arrests of the most violent, awful white men without choking or humiliating them, but somehow appear to struggle to provide this same level of human decency to black men, women, and children who are unarmed and nonviolent.

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