Dr. Boyce: The Gabriella Calhoun Police Beating – “Negroes in a Barrel” Police Work at It’s Best


by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I’m not sure who sent me information about the case of Gabriella Calhoun.  I do know that a Your Black World contributor, Yolanda Spivey, covered the case, asked a lot of questions and came to me with her conclusions.

I admit that I am a natural skeptic of almost everything put in front of me, especially things that happen after parties.  My greatest dream and wish is that more black kids would spend Saturday nights in the library instead of believing that only nerds are willing to do such a thing.  I spent Saturday nights working toward my dreams, which was pivotal in getting a chance to live a life that I never thought I’d have.  Plus, after 20 years of teaching on college campuses, I’ve seen too many bad things happen on Saturday nights.

But with that being said, there’s nothing wrong with going out and this also shouldn’t give the police a reason to harass you.  My father was a cop for over 25 years, so I respect good law enforcement.  But I also know that police can become as frightened as the rest of us, and sometimes abuse their authority.  I’ve seen people get beaten down by police for even the most minor gestures, such as asking why the officer is arresting their friend or telling the officer to let them go.  None of this is acceptable and amounts to a consistent violation of the right and safety of American citizens.

When it comes to Gabriella Calhoun, I get the sense that officers were waiting for something to happen, profiling a group of young black teens, believing that they had no access to the justice necessary to protect them from the abuses that officers would never inflict on a group of young white kids.  Gabriella and her friends had nothing to do with the fight taking place in the Denny’s parking lot where they were eating dinner, she didn’t even know the girls involved.  They were doing nothing wrong, but were told to leave the restaurant because they were also black and/or appeared to be dressed as if they’d been to the same party.  No one else in the restaurant was asked to leave, which might make Denny’s liable for what happened after that.

While being told to leave the restaurant, Gabby was grabbed by a police officer.  The rest of the story, which you can read here, is one where this young honor student with no criminal record woke up spitting teeth and blood onto the ground while being choked by an officer who told her “I don’t care if you have asthma.”  The officer then forced Gabby to walk across a crowded restaurant with her chest exposed because she allegedly refused to lift Gabby’s shirt to cover her up.  What kind of animal thinks that this behavior is acceptable?

I spoke with Gabby for an hour the other day, then I spoke with her mother, and her family spokesperson.  My conclusion, from the core of my heart, is that this young woman did nothing wrong.  Gabby, a petite, 18-year old weighing no more than 130 pounds, is hardly the kind of overwhelming and intimidating figure who deserves to have her teeth knocked out by the cops.

One of my daughters is the same size as Gabriella, and when she once got out of control, I lifted her over my shoulder and carried her out of the room.  Only a corrupt bully would have the audacity to think that she deserves to be hit in the face with a baton and spend the rest of her life chewing with dental implants.  Gabby told me that she once took pride in her beautiful smile, and now she doesn’t even want to take pictures.   This doesn’t even count the trauma she likely feels after realizing that police are not there to protect her, but instead, may abuse or even kill her.

In the case of Gabriella Calhoun, police can’t do what the public is trying to do with Trayvon Martin.  There’s nothing in Gabby’s past about hitting weed after school, getting suspended or engaging in any form of aggressive behavior toward anyone.  Her older brother is a straight A student on his way to medical school, and Gabby herself finished high school a semester early.  She told me that she’s never even been sent to detention, and her mother assured me that she and Gabby’s father run a tight ship, as good parents are supposed to do.

I get the sense that Bloomington police know that they’ve made a serious mistake, for they are back-pedaling faster than Deion Sanders did when he played for the Dallas Cowboys.  They might need to move even faster, and learn that good police work means interacting with people with mutual respect, not persistent degradation.

But this case is bigger than Gabriella.  It’s really about the idea that police felt that a large group of black people automatically poses a threat to the surrounding community.  It’s about the fact that they felt comfortable infringing on the rights of a group of students, forcing them to leave the restaurant, when they had nothing to do with the fight outside.  It’s all about the “Negroes in a Barrel” theory, leading cops to believe that every black person is somehow related, and that proximity to a guilty party automatically implies that you should not have access to fundamental human and civil rights.  It is consistent with the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department, which adds to the mass incarceration crisis, which has come to match the N*azi holocaust in terms of the millions of people whose lives have been ended or destroyed.

The truth is that, this case represents the continued acceptance of state-sponsored terrorism.

I am fully supporting Gabriella and her family in their quest to pursue justice.  Her mother told me that when she sought help for her child, all of the civil rights organizations she reached out to ignored her calls.  Now, since the word is out, they are starting to call her back.  This makes me happy, and I pray that it sends a clear signal to the Bloomington Police Department that you can’t treat our kids like animals, and if you do, we’ll have your job.

Gabriella Calhoun is a shining young star who represents the future of black America.  None of us should be willing to sit and watch our best and brightest be beaten down, abused and traumatized by those who see our kids as nothing more than food for the prison industrial complex.  Between urban violence, failing schools, and racial profiling, our kids are facing danger everywhere they turn.  It is up to us to stand up and say “We won’t allow this ANYMORE.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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