“Call my Mama! Call my Mama at home. God!” — Dajerria Becton
Dajerria Becton, a beautiful black girl with braids running down her back cried out for her Mama and God because she was helpless. An officer, Eric Casebolt, spoke at her and not to her. He grabbed Dajerria, threw her onto the concrete sidewalk before wrestling her to a nearby grass area. He shouted “On your face!” When her body lay flat on the turf, he placed his knee firmly on the small of her back. He shoved his other knee between her neck and collarbone and crushed a section of her braids into the earth. One of his arms rested on his bended knee, casually. Dajerria, her face to the ground, was unarmed.
Dajerria struggled to regain her bearings. She tried to speak even as the full weight of this officer bore down on her slight frame. Though her face lay on bitter grass she told the officer “that he [could] get off [her] because her back was hurting really bad” (KDFW local news; Tom Dart, Guardian, June 8, 2015). Her pleas fell on deaf ears. She insists she was not involved in a fight that allegedly kicked off during an end-of-school pool party in McKinney, Texas.
One of the attendees of the party, Emma Stone, 14, shared that white adults told the black youth to return to “Section 8 housing” (BuzzFeed). Brandon Brooks, the young white male who took the video capturing Eric Casebolt manhandling Dajerria, recalls, “A fight between a mom and a girl broke out and when the cops showed up everyone ran, including the people who didn’t do anything. So the cops just started putting everyone on the ground and in handcuffs for no reason. This kind of force is uncalled for, especially on children and innocent bystanders.” He shares that, “Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican, Arabic. [The cop] didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible” (BuzzFeed). Brooks’ white invisibility allowed him to navigate his environment on his own terms. This invisibility of privilege shadowed another white male spectator. He stood at the center of this race, gender, and class storm and watched events unfold, unhindered and undisturbed.
Officers did not order this white male bystander to back away from Dajerria. Instead, he hovered over Dajerria while Officer Eric Casebolt swore and shouted at the black teenagers to move away. And when, in a daze, Dajerria leaned back and tried to maintain her dignity, it was the thighs and crotch of this white male civilian that met the back of her head and upper body. When their bodies made contact, he backed away, raised his hands, and did not say a word to her. At one point, he tried to prevent others from getting to Dajerria as the officer wrestled her to the ground. A couple of older black men watched in disbelief as Casebolt threw Dajerria to the ground. She could be their daughter, their niece, friend, or sister. And yet they could not defend her against an armed police officer, for if he was quick to pull out a gun when charging at black teenagers, why wouldn’t he shoot them on the spot for trying to come to this girl’s aid?
As a young adult, I too endured the pain of being assaulted by a white man. My largely white middle-class friends and I were sitting around a table in a bar when this man walked in with his funny looking dog. We laughed at the quirky dog. In response, the man bypassed my friends, leaned over the table, and slapped me across the face. None of my friends came to my defense. They were in shock. Frightened. But their silence and inept response slapped me again across my face. I recall only one friend, my working-class Irish friend, accompanied me as I reported this incident to the police. The officers said there was nothing they could do. They barely looked at me.
A day or so later I told a black male friend what had happened to me. He was enraged. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood where black men protected me, provided for me, loved and treasured me. My childhood friend wanted me to identify the man who assaulted me so he could deal with the matter. I knew if my friend and my brother and his friends traveled to this region to defend my honor they would be arrested. At the time, I lived in a predominantly white region of the country where hostility against “foreigners” and black people was rampant. Weeks later, I saw the man who attacked me. He smirked as he walked passed me.
The privilege of invisibility and safety
There are those whose presence rarely, if ever, elicits suspicion. And there are those whose white skin affords them the luxury of being viewed as an upstanding citizen. They can function as invisible people even when they are visible. They can establish themselves as individuals even as they are held up as an example of the normative standard that those aspiring to occupy any role, position, identity, or experience must observe. Christians who enjoy the advantages that come with invisibility can ask God how he would have them use their privileges for the benefit of the marginalized. For if such privileges remain in the realm of group patronage, self-interest and self-preservation, the individuals who hoard such privileges “declare [through their actions and words] that God in someone else is less than the God who lives in [them]” (Revd Traci Blackmon, Justice Conference, Chicago, June 2015).
Love in the midst of trauma
Amid the furor surrounding the mishandling of Dajerria Becton and the other young people who attended the party in McKinney, Eric Casebolt resigned from his post as an officer with the city’s police department. Still, Dajerria Becton and her peers have been violated and are traumatized. As Joshua DuBois maintains, “raising black children is becoming an exercise in trauma management” (@joshuadubois Jun 7, 2015). The young black people who were treated so roughly, so inhumanely, need our prayers, and they need to heal. Prayer accommodates venting to the God who is not overwhelmed by our anguish (Psalm 88; Isaiah 1:17). I pray these young people will experience a God who can cradle them through their trauma (Isaiah 42:1-4; Psalm 86:17; 119:50). Jesus understands their pain (Matthew 25:40). Jesus would never throw them to the ground. These young people also need our love (Mark 12:30–31). We must also pray for the parents who witnessed officers treat their children so brutally. Through our actions and words we can convey to them and their children that God adores them, and that they deserve to be treasured and feel safe (Matthew 25:45).
Reflecting on the events surrounding the recent racial, gender, and class storm on her blog, Revd Adriene Thorne shares the following testimony:
I want my child and all children to live their full and whole lives, and that begins with facing ugly realities like what happened in McKinney, Texas. As an ordained Christian minister, however, I struggle to hold the ugly alongside the hope of my faith that says God loves all the people lavishly. I need help with the ugly reality of racism in America.
Still, she contends that, “[e]very intentional action we make contributes to the change we want to see” (revadriene.wordpress.com, June 9, 2015). For me at least, that means that I must also pray that officers will be held accountable for their actions, and will serve and protect all citizens, even as I pray that they and their families will experience the love and mercy of God and convey that love to others.
Will we allow God to transform our hearts in the same way that Jesus, reprimanding the disciples and his followers for trying to prevent the most disenfranchised from coming to him, challenged their perspectives? After all, it was Jesus’ custom to defend and reach out to those considered by many as not being worthy of love, safety, protection, and dignity (Matthew 25:31–46; 1 Corinthians 1:28; Luke 19:1–10). Perhaps author Deidra Riggs’ prayer can teach followers of Jesus how to love others and confront injustice.
Prayer by Deidra Riggs, https://twitter.com/DeidraRiggs
Swimming pool image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Dr. Claudia May is a specialist in African American and Caribbean literature and popular culture, a spiritual writer, poet, and a spiritual director (see http://www.claudiamay.org/ ). She is a visiting scholar in the Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a recipient of the Pacific School of Religion President’s award. She is a passionate follower of Jesus, a woman of prayer, and a lover of biblical stories and wisdom. You can follow her on twitter @