Yesterday’s edition of Friday Five included the story of a 12-year-old black kid who was mowing a lawn (which he had been hired to do) when neighbors called the cops on him. That was not the only episode of a white person calling the police on a black person this week: Pool Patrol Paul.
So, a woman and her daughter went to use the pool owned by the neighborhood Home Owners Association, of which the black woman is a member (which means she is one of the owners of the pool). There are a couple of different videos of the incident, with the guy explaining that it isn’t racial, he’s just enforcing the rules. A white woman in the background of one video points out that she wasn’t asked to show her ID. A few moments later, after the police determine the the black woman has a valid keycard to unlock the gate, and the white guy tries to imply that the black woman stole the key card from a valid resident, an different white woman says, “You didn’t make me sign in!” The guy has subsequently resigned from the board of the home owners association, resigned from his position as the “pool chairman” and either was fired or agreed to resign from his job.
The funniest take I’ve read on this was written by Michael Harriot: Sentient Marshmallow Calls Police on Black Woman for Swimming in Her Own Pool, which is where I grabbed the image above, because he has a theory as to why certain white people, as he asks, who do “white people believe the cops are their personal fugitive slave catchers. Are police supposed to be universal technical support for white people? Why are white people like this?”
At least Pool Patrol Paul remained non-violent, unlike Pool Patrol Paula (no relation): A white woman allegedly hit a black teen, used racial slurs and told him to leave a pool. Then she bit a cop. Last week a group of 15-year-olds showed up at a pool, invited there by a friend, and this woman started yelling at them that they couldn’t be there. The boys (and at least one other witness) say that she used a racial slur, which is what prompted one of the kids to start recording it on his phone. The phone really set her off, because he shouts and comes at him, trying to bat the phone away and she hits him several times. She asks angrily, “How does that feel?” after hitting him. The boys retreat, at least one can be heard very politely saying, “Yes, ma’am, we’re leaving.” Police, reviewing the video and talking to at least one witness at the pool, then got an arrest warrant and went to pick her up. She fought the two cops at her home, injuring both of them—biting one severally enough to break his skin. She’s been charged with assault and battery on the teen, plus two counts of assault on the cops. She’s out on bond, but she has also been fired from her job.
I saw at least one comment to the effect that Pool Patrol Paula, since she got violent with the cops, has some other issues and this shouldn’t be considered a racial case. That’s the wrong way of looking at it.
Let’s go to the case of Pool Patrol Paul insisting that he was only doing his duty as the pool chair person, which including making sure the facilities weren’t used by non-members. When it was pointed out that he didn’t ask anyone else there to prove they belonged, he dodged the question. One of the explanations given over the fact was that he simply didn’t recognize her, since she had bought the house and moved in recently.
Seems plausible, right?
One of the big disconnects that people who are not members of a marginalized group have about the nature of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth, is that bigotry is about feeling a burning hatred for those people. But bigotry is much, much more subtle than that. The video indicates that the pool was pretty crowded. It was a hot day, it was Independence Day, so a lot of people were there. It is not possible to believe that in that situation that he carefully assessed every face around the pool, ticking off names from his mental list. As two of the white women there pointed out, he wasn’t enforcing the rule that everyone sign in—until the black woman and her black daughter showed up.
Systemic bigotry is a subtle, insidious force that we absorb throughout our lives. It tints our perceptions, creating filters in our minds that we don’t process consciously. Our brains are really good at classifying things, people, and sounds we recognize. But it classifies them according to these assumptions that we don’t always understand.
I have no problem believing that Pool Patrol Paul did not literally think, upon seeing the two enter the area, “Uh, oh! Can’t let the n—–s in the pool!” It’s more subtle than that. All of the white skinned people moving around him registered to his subconscious as folks who belong, without him thinking about it. The racial issue made him notice the woman and her daughter, and once he noticed, only then did he think, “I don’t recognize them.”
He asked her her name and address. He went into the office, then came out and asked for her ID. In subsequent attempts to explain himself, he first claimed that he forgot the address by the time he got inside to look her up. Then he changed the story to say that the address she gave was for a part of the subdivision that hadn’t completed construction. Then he said that she gave two different addresses.
What really happened is: she gave him a name and her address. He went inside and looked that name up, and it was the name of a home association member registered at that address. But his gut told him she was lying (later he told the police that it’s possible the key card was stolen). So he went back and asked for her ID.
And the problem is that he never asked himself why his gut was telling him she didn’t belong. And given what statements have come out since, he still hasn’t asked himself that question.
Similarly with Paula—she seems to be a more inherently violent person, but again, it isn’t just that she’s violent, it’s why she immediately assumed those boys didn’t belong at the pool (where she was just a person using it herself; she wasn’t responsible for enforcing any rules), and therefore were legitimate targets for assault. When the cops came to her home a couple days later to arrest her, of course she was outraged! She had done nothing wrong, in her mind.
Michael Harriot was on to something with the comment about perceiving police as personal fugitive slave catchers. These incidents happen because on a fundamental level, people like Pool Patrol Paul and Paula, and BBQ Becky, and Permit Patty, and the neighbors who called the police on a 12-year-old for mowing a lawn, all perceive certain people as not belonging. More than that, they perceive the presence of (in these cases) black people in these places as a wrong that must be righted.
Until they understand that about themselves, they’re going to keep doing things like this, while loudly proclaiming that they aren’t bigots.