In Prayerful Solidarity with Dr. Ersula Ore

This morning I am sitting in prayer after watching a video of Dr. Ersula Ore, a Professor at Arizona State University, get thrown to the ground by a violent cop after he demands that she produce identification and she does not immediately do so. She was jaywalking.
Jaywalking Arrest for Professor in AZ

You can draw your own conclusions. Perhaps, like me, you will be struck by how much self-respect and calmness she displays, how she initially strives to remain a human being in relationship to another human being with this officer.

Perhaps, like a (white male) facebook friend, you will see it differently. You will think that she should have done exactly what the cop told her to do and handed over her ID to him without talking to him at all. Certainly that is what African Americans and other people of color are taught to do no matter how inappropriately cops behave.

As a white woman, I have had similar give and take with police officers to the kind that Dr. Ore begins with. Once, I said the exact words she said to the officer, in almost the exact same tone of voice. “Are you kidding me?” At worst, I’ve gotten ticketed in a manner that I consider unfair. But I have never felt at risk of violent assault from a police officer in such an interaction.

But this cop makes a different choice. Rather than speak back to Dr. Ore in a manner similar to the one with which she speaks to him, and take care of whatever he needs to take care of regarding jaywalking, he escalates the situation until, she is handcuffed and thrown to the ground. We don’t see her dress in the video, but according to witnesses, it is pulled up and ‘her anatomy is exposed’ on the street. Eventually, she kicks an officer who is reaching over to touch her skirt. She is now charged with assaulting an officer, a felony.

It’s not an insignificant point that this took place in Maricopa County, where Sherriff Joe Arpaio has been training his officers to humiliate and demean people of color for years. His legacy of abuse of people of color extends all the way to multiple deaths in his “Tent City,” which he has himself described as a “Concentration Camp.”

For Dr. Ore, there is now an investigation taking place about whether or not what happened to her was caused by “racial motivation.” One can only wonder what that means and how such an investigation would take place. What if thousands of white people testified that no cop has ever treated us this way, nor demanded ID when we are walking in the street to avoid road construction—could that help this be seen as racially motivated? What if thousands of people of color testified about how frightening it is to live in Maricopa County? Could the model that Sherriff Joe Arpaio sets for his officers create racial motivation? One shudders to think about the narrow definition of “racial motivation” that will be employed by officials.

Dr. Ore, you are in my prayers today. You and the thousands of other people of color who are forced to prove that you have a right to walk home, and upon whom the burden of proof always rests. Please know that you are not alone—that tens of thousands of white people, as well as the people of color who share your experience of being told you don’t matter—are with you and will be with you as you ask for what everyone wants: Respect for your worth and dignity.

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