You Can’t Swim Here: America's Anti-Blackness and 100 Years of McKinney

BY VERONICA VARELA 

“We’re only getting one side of the story!”
“The camera didn’t catch what happened before!”
“Cops have a right to come home to their families at night!”
“They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
“How about the part where these teenagers were destroying this neighborhood?”

When I hear these questions, I'd like to ask a question of my own: at what point was a grown man so terrified by a 15-year-old, bikini-clad girl that he had to draw a gun, pummel her to the ground, and use extreme force to keep her there?


I’m sure you’ve heard it already. The articles and videos are blowing up my feed. I’m sure you’ve heard about the pool party, the incessant, racist taunting that blew up into a fight, the unruly teenagers, and the police intervention. I’m sure you’ve heard about the gun-wielding officer and the kids who “just wouldn’t listen to orders.” I’m sure you’ve heard about this child, and Officer Casebolt on the scene. I’ve heard it all too.

And I can’t seem to get her voice out of my head—the screaming of a child, pleading for her mother, begging for her torment to end.

When I think about incidents such as what occurred in McKinney last Friday, and the headlines blasting my news feed every week, I can’t help but notice a pattern. This pattern of violence against communities of color isn’t a new thing, and if we are going to understand the current system, we have to be willing to dive into our dark past.


When white residents are enraged that black teens have encroached on their swimming pool, they’re stepping onto a 100-year-old battleground.


The American swimming pool is no stranger to the clash of segregation, white power, and violence. When public pools started to become popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the overwhelming majority were only accessible to the whites. Pools were segregated by city ordinance or public implementation. Some cities like Pittsburgh “did not pass an official policy of racial segregation...but rather, the police and the city officials allowed, and in some cases encouraged, white swimmers to literally beat black swimmers out of the water. In 1931, at the Highland Park Pool in Pittsburgh, black teens were reportedly punched and kicked to the ground by community-sanctioned guards. Those who were able to make their way inside were dunked and punched in the water until they chose to leave. Desegregation of pools in the ‘40s and ‘50s sparked the creation of private pools in gated communities and family pools at private homes. There are documented instances of bleach poured into pools with black swimmers as white communities became enraged with mixed pools. At a time when public pools are currently being closed and poorly kept due to low public demand and economic struggle, private community pools have become increasingly common. This leads me to McKinney.

According to the 2010 census, the average household income in the city of McKinney is $63,366, but in the community of Craig Ranch where the pool party was held, residents average almost twice that. The Craig Ranch community operates from a higher income with a large white population and obvious access to a pretty nice swimming pool. When white residents are enraged that black teens have encroached on their swimming pool, they’re stepping onto a 100-year-old battleground. The white residents of Craig Ranch have the resources, access, and privilege that allow them to swim there in the first place, and that privilege was threatened by the presence of these black teens. Members of the Craig Ranch community shouted at the teens to return to their “Section 8 housing,” thus proving their disdain for these teens and their preconceived notions regarding their backgrounds. It is under these circumstances that police were called to the scene—to protect and serve the privilege of the Craig Ranch community.

 


Officer Casebolt’s duty was to protect and serve the people of McKinney. When I see footage of Casebolt slamming down the face of a crying, half-naked, 15-year-old girl, I am strongly convinced that he is doing neither. 


Whether sanctioned by the law or not, systemic oppression has continued to ensure dominance over the black community through forced compliance and pervasive fear. When a member of the black community is publicly harmed, they stand as a message for the entire community:

"You are worthless. You are powerless,
And this is what happens when you refuse to live by our rules."

Officer Casebolt’s duty was to protect and serve the people of McKinney. When I see footage of Casebolt slamming down the face of a crying, half-naked, 15-year-old girl, I am strongly convinced that he is doing neither. So we must ask ourselves, “Who is he protecting? Who is he serving?”

While critics of the movement continue to call for nonviolence, police officers continue to incite violence against our black brothers and sisters. Nonviolence on the behalf of the African American community continues to be met with violence from our “public servants.” They did it in Greensboro. They did it in Selma. They did it to Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford. In a nation steeped in anti-blackness, African Americans continue to be seen as weapons before they are seen as humans. They are guilty until proven innocent; they are dangerous unless proven otherwise. They are treated as less than human.


Incidents like McKinney aren’t isolated. They are part of a larger injustice system that has unfairly indicted an entire community of people for centuries.


When there is story after story about the brutal ways in which African Americans are being treated by the supposed defenders of our laws, we have to be able to see the connection. Incidents like McKinney aren’t isolated. They are part of a larger injustice system that has unfairly indicted an entire community of people for centuries. Michael Brown lays dead in the street for hours in the Canfield Green Complex as a message. Dajerria Becton is pummeled into the lawn with dozens of peers watching as an example. The mobs and tactics look different. The stories change, but the message remains the same.

Is our concern about defending our laws, or is it really just another attempt to protect our privilege?

 

 

 


"How could they do it, how could they?"
"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep."

—Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird)