June 3, 2013.
On Memorial Day, in Miami, a 14-year-old black kid named Tremaine McMillan was walking down the beach with his mother–and bottle-feeding his puppy–when cops blocked his path in ATVs. A few minutes before, the kid had been rough-housing in the surf with a friend, and the cops wanted to question him about it.Read the rest here.
Moments later, the cops body-slammed the boy—still holding his puppy—onto the beach, got him in a chokehold, and arrested him for resisting arrest.
So far, so sickeningly normal.
But in this case, the police’s cover-story for the body-slam, the chokehold, and the kid’s subsequent arrest—that he was “clenching,” or, in other accounts, “flaring” his fists–was hard to sell, due to one small but troublesome fact: cellphone video showed that the kid never stopped cradling his puppy. So the police spokesman invoked a truly terrifying specter: the teenager, he said, was giving the cops “dehumanizing stares.”
Well, of course you can’t blame battle-toughened Miami cops for starting to panic when a 14-year-old black male–armed with a puppy, mind you–starts to look at them funny.
But the truth is that these so-called “dehumanizing stares” are really “humanizing” stares—stares that forced the cops to realize that they were not successful in terrorizing this kid, and that he was committing that ancient Southern offense of looking a white man in the eye.
We can’t help but remember the statutes against “reckless eyeballing”, under which, in 1951, Matt Ingram–a black tenant farmer in Yanceyville, North Carolina–was charged with assault with intent to rape a white girl, although he was 75 feet away from her at the time.
And in good conscience we will never forget Emmett Till, slaughtered for looking at—and, supposedly, whistling at—another white girl. (Till’s torture and murder were heartily defended by feminist Susan Brownmiller, who said that the glance and (alleged) wolf-whistle was “a deliberate insult just short of physical assault, a last reminder to Carolyn Bryant that this black boy, Till, had in mind to possess her.”
John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
*****Comment: It amazes me that in 2013 we can still find cases where black men - a black boy in this case - can be assaulted by police for appearing (looking) criminal.
Of course we cannot ignore that appearing (looking) Muslim is pretty much a given danger in the US and almost everywhere else whiteness informs racial politics.
But that aside, the history of 'black looks' and appearing criminal (particularly the supposed black 'sexual predator look') has a long history in the US and this case is a worrying reminder that its legacy is far from gone.
Who in his right mind takes down a young boy for "dehumanizing stares"? Is it even possible to dehumanize whiteness?
How insane a defense this will be in court when these cops try to explain their dehumanizing behavior.