A year ago, I wrote a piece outlining the media’s complicity in the killing of Black men and boys. Though I prepared it with Michael Brown in mind, the essay applies to women and girls of color as well. In my earlier piece, I lamented how “victims of police violence are dissected in the media, with their personas manipulated to fit a mold.” Certainly I was not alone in this assertion as the popular #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag and storyline quickly took root on Twitter. The online campaign highlighted before and after images to illustrate how the media peddles suggestive photos (and headlines) of victims, which could be an attempt to clamp down on sympathy Americans might justifiably experience when they learn of police violence. This sort of inoculation is happening once again with Dejerria Becton, a 15-year-old girl who was pummeled by Officer Eric Casebolt in McKinney, TX. this past week. Casebolt grabbed Becton’s braids, shoved her face-first into the ground, straddled her vulnerable body, and then buried his leg into the small of her back.
She was clad in only a bikini, yet she received not an ounce of mercy. At only 15 years old, Becton knows what it’s like to be physically assaulted by someone hired to protect and serve. At only 15 years old, she knows what it’s like to have her life flash before her eyes. At 15 years old, Becton is now well acquainted with fear. There is no justification for Officer Eric Casebolt’s actions.
All children should enjoy the benefit of innocence. They should be shielded from violence, much less violence from police. Rather than seeing the humanity in this child, imagining how they might feel if it were their loved one on the ground instead of Dejerria, some media commenters are deflecting blame. Media hosts from Megyn Kelley, who quipped that the 15-year-old child “looked like a woman, not a 15 year old girl” and that she “wasn’t a saint either” to Sean Hannity who said “there is an environment of children not respecting the police” to CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield saying she wasn’t “…sure where the racial issue comes in,” are not only providing cover for a form of child abuse, but suggesting that what happened to Dejerria is somehow okay. Or worse, her fault.
Even as someone who is well acquainted with stories of police brutality, officer Casebolt’s actions were particularly jarring. The video of Dejerria bowed down in front of an unknown male bystander who appeared to be the cop’s hired hand, and Casebolt throwing this child around like a lifeless Raggedy Ann doll – was particularly intolerable. That Officer Casebolt was accused of sexual assault in 2008 is even more unsettling. There should have been a trigger warning with the video, as watching it surfaced reminders of the long history of sexual violence against women and girls of color.
Even in the face of such unsettling circumstances, there are those in the media who feign ignorance, pretending not to see the injustice, the violation of a young girl’s body or the racism in the entire encounter. In refusing to acknowledge Dejerria’s victimization, the media is fostering an environment where police violence is permitted to thrive. As we call for accountability for Eric Casebolt, we ought to also hold the media accountable. Like Casebolt, their actions are unnecessarily cruel, and unbelievably irresponsible.
Jennifer R. Farmer is Managing Director for Communications for the national racial justice organization, Advancement Project.