McKinney is still having problems with pool parties.
In early June, following the settlement,what might have been a moment of reconciliation grew bitter when Mayor George Fuller became embroiled in a dispute with Becton's lawyer, Kim Cole, and Dominique Alexander, a Dallas-area civil rights activist and founder of the Next Generation Action Network.
Cellphone videos of Officer Eric Casebolt wrestling the then-15-year-old Becton to the ground and pinning her with his knees went viral on the internet as an example of a white officer using excessive force against black teens. Becton and others minor at the party filed a $5 million lawsuit against McKinney and Casebolt. The case was settled this week for $184,850, with Becton receiving $148,850 and six other plaintiffs receiving $6,000 each. Casebolt, who was not charged with a crime, resigned from the police force just days after the incident. The settlement will be paid out of McKinney's self-insurance fund.
Alexander, Cole and staff at NextGen had been communicating with Fuller via email about a community pool party Alexander wanted to host to mark the third anniversary of the incident. In one email, Fuller took aim at Becton, writing, “I then saw that cop overreact to a verbally abusive, disobedient girl.” The mayor, however, also called Casebolt a “reckless, overly stimulated, excessive cop, that was not equipped mentally or emotionally to deal with the chaotic situation he was in.”
Fuller's description of Becton prompted Alexander and Cole to host a news conference this week to slam Fuller for what they said was his city's inaction on racism. Fuller showed up to defend himself. During the news conference, Alexander told Fuller, “That was a foolish thing for you to do, to victimize her again.”
“He does not like someone having a mind of their own,” Alexander told the Observer on Wednesday. “He does not want to address racism in the city of McKinney. The reason why we held the press conference is because he felt like he had the authority to criticize a victim.”
This month, Fuller and Alexander squared off on another race issue when one of Fuller’s colleagues, McKinney City Council member La’Shadion Shemwell, alleged that an officer racially profiled him during a traffic stop May 8. After some backlash from the community, Shemwell made a motion to censure himself, which the council approved 6-1. Shemwell was among those voting for the reprimand for violating McKinney's charter by asking the officer at the stop to contact the chief of police, according to KDFW-TV (Fox 4). Alexander showed up to the May 8 meeting, saying, “I promise in the morning some of you council members are going to have some information going through the news media. And I promise you, we will protest here in the city of McKinney.”
Fuller’s chief complaint against Alexander is that he is just a “traveling activist” who perpetuates rather than solves problems. Despite the fact that Alexander’s children live in McKinney, Fuller has sought to discredit him as an outsider who is not involved in the community. The mayor showed up to the press conference Tuesday because he figured Alexander would harp on bits and pieces of what Fuller said in his emails, taking quotations out of context.
“He operates in sound bites,” Fuller said.
A primary mission for NextGen, for which Cole is general legal counsel, is to reframe the public's understanding of what racism is. Since 2015, a community diversity council has brought McKinney cops and community leaders together to talk about race. Despite that, Cole and Alexander say, McKinney leaders like
Fuller still don't grasp the disparity in power between whites and minorities. Cole said Wednesday that Fuller's willingness to criticize Becton is evidence of that.
"These are citizens who have a totally different perspective, who walk a different path," Cole said. "If someone tells you that you’re hurting [me], or you’re mistreating me ... your response should never be, ‘You’re making it up, you’re imagining it, get over it.’”
Fuller told the Observer that he agrees Casebolt acted improperly toward Becton in 2015, but he reiterated that Becton didn’t help matters by yelling and struggling. To Cole, Fuller’s criticism of Becton implied that Becton brought what happened upon herself.
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Cole said that when elected leaders routinely express doubts about complaints by black people who feel abused or oppressed, it’s no wonder cases like Becton's are settled rather than go to trial.
“That is indicative of the current social climate,” Cole said. “If a majority of citizens believe black people are overreacting or they’re making these instances up, well, then, when it comes time for someone to speak justice in a court setting, you’re going to get the same narrative in that jury room, and you’ll get that same sentiment.”
Fuller said he'll go to a pool party if he is in town, but he's not sure why Alexander wants to throw one. The anniversary is June 5.
“Why are we celebrating that event?” Fuller asked. “Really, an anniversary? An anniversary of what, exactly?”