We have yet another beating by a police officer of an unarmed, apparently non-resisting civilian. There’s yet another video that captures an assault in all its graphic, violent and brutal detail. And, yet again, the victim is a black woman.
In this case, the victim was pummeled by a California Highway Patrol officer while lying face up on the ground on the side of a Los Angeles freeway. CHP officials initially said and did nothing about the beating, even though it occurred in broad daylight and was witnessed by countless motorists and an eyewitness in a neighboring building. It took a video gone viral, a call for a federal probe of the beating and the suspension of the officer caught hammering the woman to get the faint response from the CHP officials that they were “investigating.”
This all too familiar pattern has become the template for these types of blatant abuses of police authority: There’s a beating, a videotape that exposes it, and then a terse statement from officials that it’s under investigation. Then, weeks or months later, the case is quietly closed without action being taken.
This, of course, doesn’t answer the larger and even more disturbing question, and that is what, if any role race and gender played in these repeated assaults under the color of law? The CHP freeway beating that prompts this question was not an aberration. In recent months, cameras have caught an Arizona State University police officer body slamming to the ground a tenured and respected African-American female professor at the university as she crossed a street. Another video caught a Clayton County, Ga. off-duty officer spitting on an African-American female motorist, then punctuating that assault with an N-word verbal harangue. This pattern matched the CHP beating. Officials in each case initially said and did nothing until the inevitable outcry after the videos were shown.
The horrid history of racial stereotyping (profiling, if you will) indelibly linking crime and violence with African Americans can’t be ignored in trying to answer the question about why African-American women are now fair game for physical abuse by police officers. The feminization of racial stereotyping has had a gripping effect. While black men are frequently typed as violent, drug-dealing “gangstas,” black women are typed as sexually loose, conniving, and untrustworthy. The victim of the brutal CHP assault, for instance, reportedly was identified as a woman who had drug and mental challenges and lived in a group home. These characterizations of the female victims of police abuse reinforce the belief of many that black women offenders are menaces to society too.
This has cost lives. Despite the battering, the victim in the CHP beating is still alive. Others haven’t been so lucky. In the past few years, black women who have been slain by police in several cities have at times generated headlines and protests. This is separate from the endless tales of black women who have been beaten, Tasered and threatened by officers during routine stops or street searches, often with no charges filed against them, or whatever charges that were filed soon dismissed.
The black women that have been killed by police have all had one thing in common. They were unarmed, and in nearly all cases they were not committing any crimes. They also had one other thing in common. In each case, there were endless and predictable efforts to dig up any and every bit of damaging information about their history or lifestyle to blame them for their own unjustified killing.
This is a crass, cynical and classic ploy of blaming the victim for their own demise. The sad thing is that it has worked. The public’s initial horror at the killing or beating quickly hardens into heaping negative aspersions on the victim. Apart from whatever action authorities take against the abusive officer, this ensures there will be minimal or no effort made to totally review and revamp training, policies and procedures by departments to reduce the use of excessive force by officers. A woman walking on a freeway in broad daylight desperately needs urgent care, treatment and services to deal with the mental distress. A beating hardly fills that prescription.
The ball is now squarely in the California Highway Patrol’s court. It must take swift and firm action against the officer who used excessive force. This will send the message that at least this is one woman — a black woman — who should have never had the ugly glare of blame cast upon her following her assault.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor and an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the “Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network and the host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KTYM-AM 1460, KPFK-FM 90.7 and the Pacifica Radio Network. Follow Earl on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.