Joseph Hutcheson and a Failure of Identity Politics

Joseph Hutcheson and a Failure of Identity Politics August 17, 2015



“Why???” The tearful words of James Hutcheson echoed loudly against the jail. Throughout last Friday’s press conference, the events of August 1 kept running through my mind.


Desperate for help, Joseph Hutcheson parked his truck on the curb of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas and ran inside. Upon entering, Hutcheson screamed, “Don’t hurt me, I just need some help.” The deputies tackled him. As Hutcheson screamed that he couldn’t breathe, a witness described one deputy restraining Hutcheson with “a knee on his back” and another deputy restraining him “with a knee on his throat.” Hutcheson’s face turned from white to blue. Around 11:30am, Joseph Sheldon Hutcheson was pronounced dead. 


How does someone ask for help and get a knee to the throat? Why would deputies attack someone who is unarmed? Why did the Sheriff’s Department slander the character of someone they just killed? Why hasn’t Sheriff Lupe Valdez reached out to the family? The questions were endless. In organizing the press conference, I wanted to make sure the voices of Joseph Hutcheson’s family came through loud and clear.


“Why???” Through tears, family members pushed the primary question through over and over. During the press conference, the family revealed that authorities kept Joseph Hutcheson’s neck organs after the autopsy, they had yet to be contacted by the Sheriff and numerous witnesses corroborated the claims that Hutcheson was a victim of police brutality. The cameras rolled as the truth spilled all over the pavement.


After viewing the news coverage, multiple people contacted me. Over and over, I was reminded of the harshest line I uttered at the press conference, “Sheriff Valdez either needs to work with the family of Joseph Hutcheson for justice or we need a new sheriff.” In most police brutality cases, this type of language is standard. When the Sheriff is the first lesbian or Hispanic to hold the office, I guess we are supposed to sit back and allow the brutality of her department to go unchecked. I simply can’t. My faith demands that I stand with the marginalized and oppressed regardless of their identity. When deputies give a fatal knee to the throat of a man asking for help, I can only call that what it is…evil.


Despite the calls to stop, I kept pushing. Joseph Hutcheson deserved all I could give. When the evening rally arrived, I worried that only a few people would show up. I started to realize that Joseph was already there. People started to come from every parking lot. When they assembled on the steps of the Frank Corley Courts Building, I had never seen this many white people at any police brutality action before. With every speech, the energy grew. By the time we started to march, everyone was chanting as loud as they could, “Joseph Hutcheson!” We paused where he parked his truck. We walked up the hill. We opened the doors to the lobby of the jail and walked in. Over and over we chanted, “Joseph Hutcheson! Joseph Hutcheson! Joseph Hutcheson!”


When deputies in riot gear came from around the corner, I knew the Sheriff’s department just made Joseph Hutcheson the lead story on the evening news. I thought about thanking them. I guess I should have.


If I had listened to the purveyors of identity politics, two things would have never happened. First, all of the deputies involved in the death of Joseph Hutcheson were placed on restrictive duty. Second, the Sheriff released a statement extending her condolences to the family. What makes us think that a person’s identity protects them from criticism when there is a body on the floor? We will either choose stand against police brutality in the many identities it comes or we will become purveyors of it.


While I am thankful for the overtures extended by Sheriff Lupe Valdez in recent days, I am ready for her to extend the tape of the incident…so that we can help the authorities extend some indictments.



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