McKinney's Black Kids Were Seduced into Thinking They Are Safe in the Middle Class

All of a sudden nobody remembers what teenagers are? They’re stupid. They're wonderful. They're awful. And they run from the cops. Many of their parents tell them to run from the cops, especially during the college admissions years.

If they come from rich enough families, their parents hire bartenders, bouncers, lawyers and public relations firms to protect them from the cops, because their parents know how stupid they are. And wonderful. Of course.

So the kids in the McKinney pool incident all showed up at once, uninvited, and they were a mob? Does somebody really think that’s an issue? Welcome to the age of social media. It’s how teenagers happen. They multiply before your eyes. First you see one. You blink, and then there are 100. Try not to blink.

And now I suppose we’re going to be subjected to some dragged out super-legalistic investigation of whether the cop in McKinney was an asshole. You’re kidding me. If there really is anybody out there who can’t tell that that cop was a total asshole, then I can only conclude that such a person must be a total asshole.

But what about race? Skin color. Continent of origin? Was that an issue? Would this cop have behaved the same way had he rolled up (literally) on a bunch of lily-white kids at a suburban pool party? I suppose here all we can do is consult our own personal experience, not that I, as the parent of a white teenager, ever had to deal with the police. Much. Maybe just a few times. That I can remember.

I have seen or known of instances where Dallas cops were called to houses where almost all-white crowds of teenagers were making trouble. In fact, I think I have known of a whole bunch of those. First of all, trouble is a spectrum. I can think of a very few instances where serious crime was occurring — burglary or vandalism — and the cops in those instances rolled up hard.

The McKinney pool party was at the other end of the spectrum. If those kids were loud, if they used bad language, if some of them climbed the fence to get in, then that may have been bad behavior, but it was way at the soft end of teenage bad behavior — the idiot end, the end of the spectrum of teenage misbehavior that every parent of a teenager knows all too well.

That is definitely not a black thing or a white thing or a Latino thing. It may well be an American middle class thing. Back during Ebola, when I was spending some time in the African and Southeast Asian immigrant community in Dallas where the outbreak occurred, I was struck by the prevalence of extremely disciplined and respectful teenagers around those apartment complexes.

Whenever I saw one of them, I thought, “Just give it a year, kid, and then you can start calling your dad a butthead for refusing to give you an iPhone.”

If we’re going to be at all honest with ourselves, we have to admit that middle class teenagers in this culture can be entitled and crazy and stupid, and when they all start tweeting each other about a party, they can be crazy stupid trouble.

In years of watching the cops roll up on teenage parties in white middle class and privileged venues, I have never once seen a cop treat children the way that guy in McKinney did. Never. It’s not a gray area.

I have seen the police look like they really wished they could take a flashlight to somebody’s head. I have seen them steamed. I certainly have heard them use all kinds of F-words and other obscenities, which in our society is just trying to make yourself heard.

But I have never seen a cop throw a teenage girl on her face on the ground and sit on her. I never once have seen a cop get himself so far out on a limb with a bunch of little brats that he has to draw down on them.
I do not believe it would have happened with a bunch of white kids. I told you I’m just basing this on personal experience, of which, as you can tell by now, I have had a little more than I might have wanted to admit at first.

You know what really strikes me about the McKinney incident? Back when all black kids lived in the ghetto and the white middle class was a distant rumored realm, it would never have occurred to black kids to go bouncing into a big pool in an affluent white area and start behaving like typical idiot teenagers. Back when the lines of race were hardened and violent, black kids were afraid of white people.

But the black kids interviewed on TV in the McKinney incident had the terribly sweet, innocent, wide-eyed, wonderful and idiotic expressions of … teenagers. Any teenagers. Of any race.

We as a society – and their parents – have plumped these children down in the bosom of Middle America and told them whatever it is we tell teenagers – do your homework, have fun, do not give the police permission to search and call daddy immediately so he can call a lawyer.

You could see it in some of their eyes: nobody had told them, “You may get shot or the shit kicked out of you, because you are black.”

We seduce them into this trance of childish well-being and security as only a child can feel it – unquestioned, a given, a thing like the sweet air we breathe – and then we play a terrible trick on them. All of a sudden they’re facing a monster they don’t even know.

As much as the McKinney incident had to do with the cop being an asshole, it had that much and more to do with the kids at the pool believing they could just be American middle class teenagers. I am grateful it does not fall to me to tell them it’s not true.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze