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As protesters descend on McKinney, conflicting narratives emerge

After police used force on teenagers at a weekend pool party in McKinney, Tex., protesters took the streets demanding that the officer Eric Casebolt be fired. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Four days after a tense confrontation between police and teenagers at a suburban Dallas swimming pool was caught on camera, the story emerging from the master-planned community no longer follows one narrative, but two.

On one side are those who feel that the seven-minute video, recorded Saturday in McKinney, Tex., documents a textbook example of white police harassing young African Americans and administering a level of force so excessive that it quickly spins a harmless gathering wildly out of control.

On the other side are those who believe the viral video that’s sparked considerable outrage captures the thankless rigor of police work as a group of overwhelmed officers struggle to keep an unruly mob of interloping youngsters under control.

[Didn’t the McKinney, Texas, police officer know he was being recorded?]

With each side digging in, the dueling narratives have turned the quiet bedroom community about 40 miles north of Dallas into the latest staging ground for an ongoing and increasingly high-decibel debate about race and police brutality in America.

On Monday, according to the Associated Press, that debate spilled into the streets of McKinney as hundreds of protesters marched peacefully through the city of 150,000, carrying signs and placards calling for the firing of McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, who was seen in the video drawing his gun on a group of young black people outside a pool party.

The marchers, some of whom had signs that said “my skin color is not a crime,” began at a school and ended at the Craig Ranch North community pool, where the debate began on Friday evening.

Nikki Perez, a black resident, told the news service that she attended a city council meeting Monday to express her concern about the incident.

“I don’t excuse the behavior of those teenagers, but if I call 911, then I wouldn’t want that cop to respond,” Perez said. “He blew his credibility when he opened his mouth and started cursing at the kids.”

Dominique Alexander, a Dallas activist who helped to organize Monday’s march, told the Dallas Morning News that the incident was “definitely a racially motivated thing” and said Casebolt “acted like he was a wild animal, just running around.”

No male officer “should ever touch a young girl, half naked, 95 pounds and slam her,” Alexander said. “That was out of line. He should be fired.”

McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt resigned after pulling his gun on a group of teenagers at a pool party in June 2015. A witness uploaded this video of the incident to YouTube. Editor's Note: This video has been edited. (Video: Courtesy of Brandon Brooks)

The video, which was uploaded to YouTube over the weekend, captures a chaotic scene that grew increasingly tense when the officer — later identified as Casebolt — attempted to throw a teenager onto a sidewalk before using his body weight to push her head toward the concrete. He was also seen pulling her hair.

Casebolt remains on administrative leave.

While protesters took to the streets, a counter-narrative was gaining traction, particularly on Facebook, where posts by several residents of the sprawling, master-planned community circulated widely.

In one post, community resident Michael Quattrin disputed that race played a factor in what happened.

According to Quattrin, a DJ had set up shop near the pool and had been playing music loudly for hours. He claimed that teens began “fighting with each other and pushing their way into our private pool.”

“Some were jumping our fence,” he wrote. “The security guard was accosted when he tried to stop the beginnings of this mob scene. Some residents who live around the park/pool area tried to come out and settle things down.”

Quattrin, who did not respond to The Washington Post’s requests for comment, added in his Facebook post: “This was a very dangerous situation for the officers AND the teens/residents not involved.”

That sentiment was echoed by Benét Embry, a local radio show host who told CNN on Monday that he witnessed the incident, though he was not seen on camera.

Said Embry, who is black:

I do not believe that this was about race. What this was was a teenage party that got out of control. It was about 130 kids there, 100 good kids there just having a good time. Out of the 130, predominantly African American, seven knuckleheads ruined the whole thing for everybody.
That’s what this is all about. I don’t think — I do not believe that officer showed up to the subdivision with the intention, ‘I’m going to go out and swing black kids around.’ I do not believe that. That’s not the way the community is set up. That’s not the community we live in.
So, amidst death threats that I have received and the banning of my radio show, my neighbor had to send his son away because he is receiving death threats.

On conservative blogs, teenagers on the video were referred to as “thugs,” and suggestive pictures from their social media accounts were shared online. Rumors swirled that teens had returned overnight to kick in neighborhood doors and steal cars, though McKinney Police Department statements about the incident have made no mention of such allegations.

The hosts of the Texas pool party where police used force on Saturday speak out about the incident. (Video: YouTube/ E Johnson Photo)

Local Fox affiliate KDFW reported that McKinney police have confirmed the department has no documented reports of vandalism. Calls to police seeking comment about the allegations were not immediately returned.

Brandon Brooks, the 15-year-old who recorded the original YouTube video, noted that there had been a fight between a girl and another woman — a parent, he believes. But he said that the party was otherwise an end-of-the-year gathering of neighborhood children and their classmates.

The host of the party, Tatiana Rhodes, 19, said in a video that things took a turn for the violent only after a neighbor began hurling racial slurs and insults at party-goers.

“This lady was saying racial slurs to some friends that came to the cookout. She was saying such things as ‘black effer’ and ‘that’s why you live in Section 8 homes,’” Rhodes said in a video.

[‘Go back to your Section 8 home’: Texas pool party host describes racially charged dispute with neighbor]

According to Brooks, by the time the officers showed up, the fight had already dispersed.

“I think that there were a bunch of kids having fun on the last day of school,” Brooks told CW33. “The parents said that we were like cursing at them and stuff, which, that never happened at all. They kept on giving us a hard time, I think it’s personally because there was a bunch of African Americans in that neighborhood who all came to the pool on the same day.”

“They probably thought they weren’t from there or something,” added Brooks.

Residents of Craig Ranch — which is 75 percent white, but includes hundreds of black residents — are divided as well, according to the Dallas Morning News. The paper reported that some residents are so frightened by recent events that “they were packing up and leaving their homes temporarily.”

But some residents joined the chorus of protesters Monday calling for punitive action against police officers, the paper reported.

As the public argues over its own conclusions, an official investigation is underway, according to McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley, who declined to say what specific behavior in the video led to the investigation.

“The McKinney Police Department is committed to treating all persons fairly under the law,” Conley said at a news conference Sunday. “As the chief of police, I am committed to a complete and thorough investigation into this incident. We will be forthcoming in this process.”

“However,” he added, “I ask that all persons be patient and respect the investigative process.”

City spokeswoman Anna Clark told the Morning News that Casebolt — the officer at the center of the storm — joined the police force in August 2005.

“Prior to that,” the paper reported, “he served almost two years as a state trooper, according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Casebolt took eight hours of cultural diversity training at Collin County Community College in February 2009, and has also taken courses in racial profiling and use of force.”

[How the rise of gated spaces like swimming pools can quietly perpetuate racial tension]

Casebolt has worked as an instructor at Executive Self-Defense and Fitness, whose Web site noted that in addition to martial arts training, he has “a strong working knowledge of human behavior” and “experience in the use of all levels of force.”

The ACLU of Texas said in a statement that the incident “appears to be a textbook case of overuse of force.”

“A well-trained police department would have responded more cautiously, with less hostility, and using sophisticated crowd control methods that favor de-escalation not escalation,” the statement says. “Without question, guns were not needed and in fact risked turning a group of partying teenagers into a violent encounter that could have turned deadly.”

A criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who has worked with the McKinney Police Department told the Associated Press that both the teens and Casebolt acted inappropriately.

The teens were not following police orders, Robert Taylor told the AP, but Casebolt’s decision to draw his weapon made the situation worse.

“That’s not the way we’re trained,” Taylor told the AP. “We’re trained in policing to de-escalate problem encounters like this. … Obviously, that officer lost his cool. No doubt about it.”

After viewing the video, Peter Schulte, a Dallas criminal defense lawyer and former McKinney police officer, appeared to echo those sentiments. He told the Morning News that he was most troubled by the officer’s actions, considering that Casebolt is a supervisor.

“This is a classic example of how something can escalate out of control very quickly by the actions of the officers, not by what was going on,” he said.

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