To Be Young and Black in America: Always Considered a Threat
Mychal Denzel Smith on May 31, 2013 - 2:05 PM ET
Over the course of my twenty-six years, I’ve developed three responses to most news headlines: “Couldn’t have been a black person,” “Please, Lord, don’t let it be a black person,” and “Oh, that was definitely a black person.”
Miami-Dade police officers pinned a 14-year-old to the ground and put him in a chokehold after the teen gave them, in their words, a “dehumanizing stare” and clenched his fists. Can you guess which response I had?
Tremaine McMillian was walking the beach on Memorial Day when police officers riding an ATV approached him and another teen to tell them their roughhousing was unacceptable behavior. The officers asked McMillian where his parents were, and as he walked away from them (McMillian says he was walking toward his mother, in an effort to answer the officer’s inquiry as to where his parents were) they jumped off the ATV and restrained McMillian. They choked the teen until he could not breathe and he urinated himself. The six-week-old puppy McMillian was holding and feeding when the officers approached him was also injured.
But it’s a matter of who constitutes a threat. Who but a black teenager has the ability to dehumanize a police officer with a stare? Who but a(n unarmed) black teenager can make (armed) police feel threatened by clenching his fists? Who but a black teenager can simultaneously clench his fists and feed a puppy? Who but a black teenager isn’t afforded the opportunity to comply with a request before it’s determined that they’re not complying? Who but a black teenager is choked to the point they urinate themselves while being handcuffed? When does any of this happen to people aren’t black teenagers?