Because while some of us may flinch at unprovoked brutality of the video, the corporate double-speak of United’s subsequent statements (“I apologize for having to re-accommodate those customers”) and the demonstrable falsehoods of the Chicago Police statement (“Aviation officers arrived on scene and attempted to carry the individual off the flight when he fell”), there is also a certain type of citizen who prays at the church of Law and Order, and will always presume officers of either stripe are in the right, evidence be damned. (See also: the Rodney King verdict, announced 25 years ago this month.) And many of your fellow Americans also pledge allegiance to capitalism, working from the assumption that if a corporation they support did something, it couldn’t be altogether bad. This story gives them a two-for-one!
And that’s how the United video is about so much more than the United video – it gets to the heart of police brutality, and the resistance to protest movements like Black Lives Matter to boot. Because when a Michael Brown or an Eric Garner or a Tamir Rice is shot or strangled and left for dead in the streets by an “officer of the law,” the legitimate concerns and qualms of people of color, borne out of literal centuries of systemic racism and police harassment, are dismissed by said Certain Type of Citizen out of hand. Why didn’t they just comply with the officers? they’ll ask. Why were they resisting? Why were they making trouble?
And this is probably where it’s worth noting that there’s a certain quality that’s shared by everyone I’ve seen speak out against the United victim. What could it be?
Clear back in 1974, Richard Pryor pinpointed the essential element of white privilege (before anyone was even calling it that) which made the mere fact of police harassment so hard to communicate: “That’s ’cause the police live in your neighborhood,” he explained, “and you be knowin’ ’em as Officer Timpson. ’Hello, Officer Timpson, going bowling tonight? Yes, nice Pinto you have.’ Niggers don’t know them like that.. A nigger got to be talkin’ ’bout, ’I am reaching into my pocket for my license! ’Cause I don’t wanna be no motherfuckin’ accident!’”
Guys like Walsh, and Wells, and the guy in the orange shirt, and all the rest will never really understand the guy who’s dragged from his seat, because they’ll never be the guy who’s dragged from his seat; it’s clear, by the way they’ve framed this incident, that they have no interest in understanding. But if the only people we’re speaking up for are ourselves, blithely turning a blind eye to injustice and brutality literally feet away from us because we don’t want to cause any trouble and it’s not affecting us directly, then we’re all fucked. And the next four years are going to be even scarier than we thought.