"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Who Gets to Go to the Pool?

Eric Casebolt, the Texas police officer who was caught on video pinning a
teenage girl to the ground and pulling his gun on others at a pool party, has
resigned from the McKinney Police Department. (YouTube)
IN a 1948 speech to fellow Dixiecrats, Strom Thurmond famously declared that the entire United States Army couldn’t force white Southerners to allow black people “into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”

I’m always struck by his invocation of swimming pools as a battleground for racial segregation, although perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, some of the most potent symbols of Jim Crow involve water, from segregated drinking fountains and toilets to swimming pools and beaches.

In a YouTube video of a pool party that took place in McKinney, Tex., on Friday, a white police officer appears to shove, handcuff and pull a gun on a group of black teenagers. He grabs a black girl by her hair and drags her to the ground. He puts a knee on her back as she screams. According to the McKinney Police Department, officers responded to calls of a “disturbance” involving multiple juveniles “who do not live in the area or have permission to be there.”

The officer in question has reportedly resigned, and the department announced an investigation. Black teenagers at the party have told news outlets that before the police arrived, they were accosted by white adults who told the black children to leave the pool and “return to Section 8 housing.”

After the episode got national attention, a local reporter shared a picture of a sign posted outside the pool: “Thank you McKinney PD for keeping us safe.” If an officer pointing a gun at unarmed teenagers protects a community, then what danger do black kids at a swimming pool pose?

We don’t yet, and may never, know exactly what happened at this particular pool, but the image of an officer manhandling black children in swimsuits calls to mind the long fight over who can access water and who cannot.

Water has long been a site of racial anxiety. Integrating city pools has led to riots, such as in 1931, when young black men in Pittsburgh were held underwater, dragged out and beaten by white swimmers while police officers watched. Segregated beaches were an early battleground for integration in Mississippi. When more than 100 black people held a wade-in in 1960, a white mob attacked them with pool sticks, lead pipes and chains. A news account referred to the attack as the “worst racial riot in Mississippi history.”

Segregating water is not just a Southern tradition. In California, Mexican-Americans were excluded from “whites only” restaurants, schools and of course swimming pools.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, Brit Bennett, June 10, 2015

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